IAF suspects human error in fatal F-16 crash

Itkis, 28, was to be married in four months; Levi, 30, is survived by his parents, two brothers currently serving in the IDF, and a sister.

By
November 12, 2010 00:42
Search and rescue teams and IDF rabbis at Negev je

Negev Jet Crash Site 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

 
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Human error – possibly a miscalculation in altitude – appears to have caused an F- 16I fighter jet to crash late Wednesday night in southern Israel, killing two airmen, according to preliminary findings of an Israel Air Force investigation.

The remains of pilot Maj. Amihai Itkis, 28, and navigator Maj. Emanuel Levi, 30, were found on Thursday afternoon after almost 24 hours of searching throughout the Ramon Crater. IAF commander Maj.- Gen. Ido Nehushtan notified the pilot’s and navigator’s families.

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IAF officers said the F-16Is – Israel’s newest and most-advanced fighter jets – would remain grounded until the air force could rule out a mechanical malfunction.

One possibility under investigation is that the plane’s entire electrical system shut down, preventing the crew from sending a distress call.

Other possibilities are that a bird hit the aircraft and caused the crash or that the pilot miscalculated his altitude during the night flight.

While the plane has systems to warn of low altitude, a pilot is able to set the altitude at which the alarm should go off. It is unclear at what altitude Itkis had set the system.



“Most urgent for us is to uncover the cause of the crash and find out if something hit the plane or if the crash was caused by human error or a mechanical malfunction,” a senior IAF officer said on Thursday.

During the day, search teams uncovered the plane’s black box. If not overly damaged, this might provide insight into the cause of the accident and possibly enable investigators to reconstruct the dialogue between Itkis and Levi.

“The crew did not issue a distress call,” the officer said. “It simply disappeared from the radar screen and other pilots saw a huge explosion on the ground below.”

Itkis and Levi’s plane was at the head of a formation drilling dogfights with enemy aircraft. It was their third flight of the day and their second at night. The plane’s last maneuver was intercepting an “enemy” aircraft at around 11,000 feet, following which it dropped until it hit the ground.

Itkis, 28, from Sde Warburg in the Central region, was the middle child of three. His older brother Barak was killed in action while serving in the navy in 1998.

Itkis was to be married in four months and is survived by his parents and one remaining sibling.

He had recently started studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Levi, 30, from Ma’aleh Adumim, was the eldest of four children.

He is survived by his parents, two brothers currently serving in the IDF, and a sister.

Levi will be laid to rest at the Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. Details have not been released regarding the funeral of Amihai Itkis.

Called the Sufa by the IAF, the F- 16I is the IAF’s newest plane and alongside the F-15I, its most advanced. Fitted to Israel’s specifications, these aircraft are different from any other F-16, even those in the service of the US Air Force.

The Sufa was the first F-16 in the IAF armed with the AMRAAM air-toair missile, giving it superior survivability and the ability to shoot down other jets up to 50 kilometers away. It is also equipped with a Northrop Grumman APG-68 radar, which is generations more advanced than the other radars in service in the IAF fleet. The Synthetic Aperture Radar system and Litening navigation pod gives the F-16I all-weather, day and night attack capabilities.

The plane proved its air superiority in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 but has also encountered some problems since arriving in Israel.

Israel bought 102 airplanes; one crashed during a landing in the Second Lebanon War due to a malfunction.

Last September, another F-16I had to make an emergency landing after experiencing engine failure during a routine training flight. The pilot decided to shut down the engine and made an emergency landing at the Ramon Air Force Base in the Negev. After that incident, Nehushtan grounded the planes so they could all be inspected.

A year earlier, Nehushtan also grounded the plane after formaldehyde was found in the cockpit of one of the aircraft.

The decision to suspend training flights was made after a number of pilots complained of a bad smell coming from the cockpit of one of the planes. The IDF Medical Corps conducted tests and discovered that the smell was caused by a type of formaldehyde known to be carcinogenic in high concentrations.

While air accidents are mostly down in the IAF, there have been a number of tragic crashes in recent years, most recently during a searchand- rescue exercise in Romania when an IAF Sikorsky CH-53 – known as the Yasour – crashed in the Carpathian Mountains, killing six IAF airmen and a Romanian officer.

Last month, Nehushtan temporarily suspended a nationwide IAF exercise after a Black Hawk helicopter flew into an electrical cable in northern Israel. No one was injured.

In July, however, a female air force cadet was lightly injured after ejecting from the cockpit of her Efroni single-engine turboprop training aircraft during a landing.

In September 2009, Capt. Asaf Ramon, son of the late Israeli astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon, was killed in a training accident. Asaf Ramon was flying an older model F-16 when it exploded.

In 2008, two pilots were killed when their Zukit training plane crashed in the Negev and two veteran reserve pilots were killed when their Cobra attack helicopter crashed in the North.

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