4 helicopters make way home

Bodies still in Romania undergoing identification process.

By YAAKOV KATZ JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
July 29, 2010 10:30
4 minute read.
A CH-53 YASOUR heavy helicopter (Illustrative).

311_Yasour. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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BOBOC, Romania - Four Israeli Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 sea stallion Yasour helicopters took off Thursday morning from Boboc Air Force Base in Romania and began making their way back to Israel, ending a dramatic week in which a helicopter from their squadron crashed, killing six Israeli servicemen and one Romanian officer.

Two helicopters remained behind to assist in transporting the remains of the servicemen undergoing identification at a Romanian hospital back to the base where they will be loaded on to an IDF Hercules transport aircraft and flown back to Israel late Thursday.

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IDF search and rescue teams succeeded on Wednesday in retrieving the bodies of the servicemen killed in the helicopter crash this week in central Romania.

IDF sources said that based on the evidence at the site, the crash was likely the result of human error and that the heavy fog and poor weather on Monday caused the helicopter to fly into a cliff.

The IDF delegation, which set up a forensics lab at a Romanian Air Force base here, worked throughout Wednesday to identify the body parts and was preparing to hold a ceremony on Thursday before lifting off for Israel.

The delegation consists of forensic experts and officers from the Chaplains Corps who are equipped with files on the fallen servicemen, including fingerprints, dental records and other markings that can be used in confirming the identities of the bodies.

Three IAF helicopters carrying about 60 soldiers from the air force’s search-and-rescue unit 669, officers and dogs from the Oketz canine unit, and Medical Corps representatives flew early on Tuesday morning to the Carpathian Mountains. Due to the tough terrain, the soldiers landed on a mountain 3 km. from the crash site and went the rest of the way on foot.

“The wreckage is scattered over a large area,” a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post.



“The teams at the site worked to collect the remains and pieces of the wreckage that are required for the air force’s investigation into what caused the crash.”

IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan said on Wednesday that the Israeli pilots who crashed had been on their first flight in the area as part of the Blue Sky 2010 joint training exercise with the Romanian Air Force.

Three pairs of helicopters participated in that particular exercise.

The aircraft that crashed was the leader of the first pair. Shortly before the accident, the pilots on both helicopters noticed that they were approaching a cloud and, in line with procedures, began moving away from one another. The second helicopter succeeded in getting away from the cloud, but the lead helicopter hit the cliff.

Nehushtan defended the IAF’s safety regulations and said there were about 1.5 accidents per every 1,000 flight hours, on par with the most advanced air forces in the world. The IAF succeeded in maintaining the ratio despite the dramatic increase in operations and training flights in recent years, he said.

“The helicopter fleet does things that cannot be spoken about, in places far away, at night and without knowing what weather they will encounter,” Nehushtan said.

“The only thing that pilots have is confidence in their capabilities, which are based on experience and expertise. A pilot is like a surgeon.

If he hasn’t trained in two years, his experience is irrelevant.”

Also on Wednesday, President Shimon Peres asked hundreds of people at Beit Hanassi to stand in memory of the IAF crash victims.

Speaking at the annual awards ceremony for the Council for a Beautiful Israel, the president said, “We have lost six of our finest sons, six of the most beautiful of our people. Israel is not beautiful without the beauty of the Israelis themselves. The army is the most treasured asset of the Jewish people, and our sons who fought and fell are the greatest treasures of the army and of us all. Our hearts are with the families, with the parents who have lost beloved sons, with the grieving wives, one of whom is pregnant, and with the young children who have been orphaned.”

One of Peres’s sons served in the air force.

The president conveyed Israel’s condolences to those mourning Romanian airman Capt. Stefan Dragnea, who was also killed in the crash.

“Every pilot who gets into a helicopter is aware of both the mission and the risk,” Peres said.

“There are nations that have not known war, but we, a stubborn people, have fought seven wars, and we were able to withstand them, to maintain our traditions and honor our sons.”

Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.

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