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