Shlomi Cohen 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BRAN, Romania – Col. Shlomi Cohen knows a thing or two about helicopter crashes.
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In 1997, as chief operations officer for the Golani Brigade, Cohen was one of the first officers to arrive at the wreckage of two Israel Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopters – called Yasours by the IAF – which had collided in midair over the northern community of Sha’ar Yashuv on their way to Lebanon.
Seventy-three soldiers were killed in “The Helicopter Disaster,” the worst aviation accident in Israeli history.
Cohen, who raced to the scene, immediately began pulling bodies out of the burning helicopters.
May 10, 1977, an Israel Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 Yasour helicopter
crashed during an exercise in the Jordan Valley, killing all 54 on
board, including the 10- member flight crew. The disaster became known
as the “Disaster of the 54.”) Now the military attaché in Romania, Cohen
went on Tuesday to the scene of the wreckage of the Yasour helicopter
that crashed a day earlier in the Carpathian Mountains near the town of
Bran, in what is one of the the worst overseas aviation accidents in
Israeli history. Six IAF servicemen were killed – four pilots and two
Cohen has been in Romania for about two
years. Four years ago, he was leading troops in the war against
Hizbullah in southern Lebanon as commander of an elite reserve brigade.
On Tuesday, together with other reporters, I accompanied Cohen on a long hike up the mountain toward the crash site.
area is uninhabited and completely inaccessible to vehicles, even to
4x4 jeeps, which is why, almost 24 hours after the crash, rescue forces
still had difficulty reaching the site.
By noon, though, a group
of Israeli pilots – from the other helicopters that were here for the
Blue Sky 2010 exercise – had succeeded in locating a landing point about
2 km. from the crash site and continued from there on foot. Once they
arrived, the pilots secured the perimeter and waited for the IAF 669
search-and-rescue teams to arrive and begin extricating the remains of
the Israeli crew members.
At the top of the mountain, Cohen
received regular updates from the team of pilots and the Romanian
security personnel who had arrived to assist the Israeli efforts.
Romanians were impressed by Cohen’s presence on the mountain. That an
Israeli colonel made a special trip to the site of the crash was
something unusual for them.
Cohen was not in Romania when the
helicopter crashed. He had come to Israel for meetings on Monday but
after hearing about the disaster, he took the first flight back to lead
the rescue efforts.
Before he left for Israel last week, Cohen
met with the Israeli Yasour pilots. He said on Tuesday that they had
been in high spirits and were pleased with the exercise.
“We are flying in places we have never flown before,” he recalled them saying.
“This is new terrain and it contributes a lot to our operational capabilities.”