Air Force launches probe to determine cause of helicopter crash that killed pilots

A third crew member was rescued from the sea and is in stable condition at Rambam hospital.

 From left: 38-year-old Lt.-Col Erez Sachaini and 27-year-old Major Hen Fogel, the two soldiers killed in the helicopter crash on January 3, 2022 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
From left: 38-year-old Lt.-Col Erez Sachaini and 27-year-old Major Hen Fogel, the two soldiers killed in the helicopter crash on January 3, 2022
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

The Israeli military has begun to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deadly crash of a Navy helicopter that crashed off the coast of Haifa on Monday night.

Two IDF pilots died after their helicopter- an Atalef AS565 Panther - went down around 9 PM.

The main direction of the investigation is that a technical malfunction caused the helicopter to crash into the sea. Throughout the night and during the day, crews worked to recover all parts of the helicopter in order to ascertain the reason for the crash. The Air Force will also try to reconstruct all the pilot’s actions during the flight and see if there had been any human error involved in the tragedy.

The two fatalities were identified as 38-year-old Lt.-Col. Erez Sachaini, who was married with three children and who served as deputy commander of Ramat David airbase, and 27-year-old Major Hen Fogel. Fogel was buried in the Military Cemetery in Haifa on Tuesday afternoon and Sachaini will be buried in Misgav cemetery at 5 p.m.

The third crew member was rescued shortly after the crash from the sea and flown to Rambam Hospital in moderate condition. The military is hoping that he may be able to shed light on what happened in the helicopter before it went down.

Israel Air Force chief of operations Brig.-Gen. Amir Lazar said that the Sachaini and Fogel  were recovered from the cockpit of the helicopter after it sank beneath the waves in a “complex” recovery operation. 

According to Lazar, who spoke to reporters following the crash, the helicopter went down without sending an emergency distress call.

“No call was heard on the radio before the accident. It disappeared from the monitoring screen and then there was a report of a helicopter that hit the water and we activated rescue forces,” he said.

 Part of a military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Haifa on January 3, 2021.  (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90) Part of a military helicopter that crashed off the coast of Haifa on January 3, 2021. (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90)

The Israel Police’s Naval unit along with the Israel Air Force’s 669 Search and Rescue unit, the navy’s elite Flotilla 13, Yaltam scuba unit and additional forces participated in the search-and-rescue operation.

While the helicopter has a floating mechanism should it crash, the helicopter went underwater. The investigation into the crash will examine why the mechanism did not deploy.

According to trauma doctor Hany Bahouth, that the officer who survived the crash was being treated in intensive care for a fractured spine and hypothermia. He was quoted by Ynet News as saying that “his neurological condition was satisfactory ,and we expect to release him from the intensive care unit later in the day to complete his treatment in a regular ward.”

Israel Air Force chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin announced that he has appointed an officer to lead an investigation into the incident. Norkin also instructed that the Atalef series be grounded for the time being and that flight drills will be suspended. 

“This is a difficult and painful accident. These helicopters are well-used but very reliable and operate consistently with the navy. The technical components will be carefully investigated,” Lazar said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the crash on Twitter, saying "the Air Force pilots who fell in the accident were among the best of our sons. The people of Israel will not forget their contribution to the security of the state."

"I spoke with the Chief of Staff and I promise that the IDF will investigate this incident and draw the necessary lessons," tweeted Defense Minister Benny Gantz, sending his condolences to the families of the pilots. 

President Isaac Herzog

sent his condolences to the families of the two fatalities and wished a speedy recovery to the third crew member in the hospital.

"The national and individual heart is hurting this morning over the IDF helicopter crash tragedy last night. I send my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the families of Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel and wish a speedy recovery to the injured crew member. I want to thank all of the forces for their joint efforts in the mission to locate and rescue the missing overnight,” he wrote.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also sent his sympathies to the families of the air crew, calling them “the best of the best” and sent his best wishes to the injured officer.

“My heart is with the families who have lost their most precious of all,” he wrote on Facebook. “Their contribution and love for the country will accompany us and their memory forever. May them rest in peace.

Bennett, Lapid and Gantz all received updates during the Knesset session on the crash.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing what looked like a fireball fall from the sky into the water. Rescue operations were caught on CCTV camera near Bat Galim beach south of Haifa and another video from the scene shows teenagers running towards a large fire near the beach.

 An Israeli army flare illuminating the sky during searches for survivors after a helicopter crashed off the coast of the northern Israeli city of Hafia, January 3, 2021.  (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90) An Israeli army flare illuminating the sky during searches for survivors after a helicopter crashed off the coast of the northern Israeli city of Hafia, January 3, 2021. (credit: ALON NADAV/FLASH 90)

The Atalef is a medium-weight multipurpose twin-engine helicopter that is used by the Navy for a variety of missions including search and rescue, combat support and more. Israel bought five AS565s in 1996, this is the second crash of the fleet.