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An air force A-4 Skyhawk, on a training flight in southern Israel, crashed into the sea off the coast of Ashdod on Thursday.
According to an initial IAF investigation, the pilot reported that his engine had malfunctioned and caught fire. He ejected safely and was rescued from the waves by the air force's elite 669 Search and Rescue Unit.
IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy appointed a committee of inquiry to investigate the cause of the investigation. He also grounded all of the IAF's Skyhawks until the completion of the investigation.
A senior IAF officer said Thursday that the plane that crashed had been in the midst of a training flight together with another Skyhawk jet when the pilot, a relatively young serviceman, noticed that the engine was losing power. While the pilot tried to diagnose the problem, the pilot of the second jet spotted fire coming from the first plane's engine.
Both pilots then tried to return to the Hazerim Air Force Base for an emergency landing, but the damaged engine overheated from the fire. When the pilot realized that he was losing altitude, he turned toward the sea and ejected at 4,000 meters.
The Skyhawk has been in service with the IAF since the 1960s. While they originally served as fighter jets, today they function as training platforms for IAF pilots.
In 2004, a Skyhawk crashed due to a similar engine malfunction in the Hebron area and in 1998, two jets crashed within two months, both due to technical problems.