Romania: IDF begins complex task of recovering the dead

Rescue and forensic teams heading out to Carpathian Mountains helicopter crash site; black box found, may provide vital information on cause of tragedy which left 7 dead.

helicopter crash 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
helicopter crash 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
BOBOC, Romania – IDF rescue and forensic teams arrived in Romania on Tuesday and were gearing up to head out to the Carpathian Mountains to recover the remains of six Israel Air Force servicemen who were pronounced dead after their Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter crashed there a day earlier.
Even though the IDF had yet to reach the crash site, Romanian authorities declared that the airmen, and a Romanian military officer, had been killed. Late on Tuesday evening, Romanian rescue authorities found the black box flight recorder at the site, which may provide vital information on the cause of the crash.
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The IAF dead were identified as Lt.-Col (res.) Avner Goldman, 48, from Modi’in; Lt.-Col. Daniel Shipenbauer, 43, from Moshav Kidron; Maj. Yahel Keshet, 33, from Hatzerim; Maj. Lior Shai, 28, from Tel Nof; Lt. Nir Lakrif, 25, from Tel Nof; and St.-Sgt. Oren Cohen, 24, from Rehovot.
The Romanian victim was named as Capt. Stefan Claudius Dragnea.
Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea sent condolences to families of those that died and Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressed his “deep regret,” according to a ministry statement.
The crash occurred during a military exercise in which crews are trained to fly at low altitudes. The joint exercises with Romania, which were due to end on Thursday, were suspended after the accident.
On Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post accompanied the IDF military attaché to Romania, Col. Shlomi Cohen, as he climbed up the steep Carpathian mountain range in central Romania to try to get to the site of the crash.
Due to the bad weather, poor visibility and tough terrain, it was impossible to get all the way to the wreckage.
On Wednesday morning, search-and-rescue teams from the IAF’s elite 669 Unit and forensic experts will head out to locate the remains of the six IAF servicemen and the Romanian soldier killed in the disaster.
The teams arrived in two Hercules C-130 transport aircraft on Tuesday and will be working with officers from the IDF Chaplaincy Corps – responsible for identifying the bodies – as well as dogs from the army’s Oketz canine unit to find the remains.
The rescue work is expected to take all of Wednesday and possibly longer, depending on the weather.
“The teams will try their best to get there first thing in the morning,” IAF Deputy Commander Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer said. “The remains of the helicopter are spread over a wide area, in a steep ravine, difficult to reach.”
Shefer explained the IAF’s decision to ground all of its aircraft on Tuesday. “It is important that we stop and think about the families and the missing servicemen,” he said.
The IAF committee of inquiry into the crash will also visit the scene and will begin collecting evidence.
“All of the possibilities are currently being investigated,” Shefer said.
The main directions of the inquiry are either a mechanical malfunction in the aircraft or human error, possibly caused by the thick fog during Monday’s flight.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the helicopter disaster during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College on Tuesday.
Quoting from Samuel II, he eulogized: “They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions, but today, choked by tears, we hear, how are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” “The disaster is large,” he said. “This is a difficult day for all of Israel... The Jewish people trembles for the best of its sons, who were on an important mission for IDF and the state.”
Shefer said the IAF would continue training overseas despite the crash. The advantage of flying in Romania was the ability to train pilots in unfamiliar terrain and territory, he said. The IAF also looks for places like Romania where it can conduct long-range training flights.
In recent years, the IAF has sent aircraft to conduct exercises in Romania, Gibraltar (according to foreign sources), Greece, Italy and the United States.