IDF tank training suspended after soldier killed in armored accident

An Armored Corps drill near the Nafah base in northern Israel ended in disaster when an IDF soldier was killed.

 Israeli tanks seen near the Israeli-Syrian border in the northern Golan Heights, on July 22, 2022.  (photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
Israeli tanks seen near the Israeli-Syrian border in the northern Golan Heights, on July 22, 2022.
(photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

A soldier was killed in what was described as an extremely rare event during a routine training exercise early Wednesday morning on the Golan Heights, the IDF said.

He was identified as Eytan Pichman, 19, from Beersheba, who was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Pichman served in the 36th Armored Division’s 82nd Battalion as a loader in a tank and was taking part in a drill near the Nafah base in the North when he was killed.

Following the deadly accident, the commander of the Ground Forces, Maj.-Gen. Tamir Yadai, canceled all exercises for armored combat vehicles.

What happened to the IDF soldier?

The incident occurred around 12:30 a.m., when Pichman did not answer a call from his platoon leader, who was standing at the top of the tank. When the platoon leader looked into the tank, he saw Pichman lying on the floor with his head caught between the turret and the hull.

Pichman had sustained a massive head injury, and the platoon leader summoned urgent medical care. After Pichman was removed from the tank, the battalion doctor confirmed his death.

The military believes Pichman was killed on the spot, but it remained unclear why he was found in an area behind where the loader stands, known as the “triangle of death,” where soldiers are not supposed to place anything, such as a leg, helmet or weapon, when the turret is moving.

 Sgt. Eytan Pichman, who was killed during an IDF exercise in the Golan Heights on August 31, 2022 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) Sgt. Eytan Pichman, who was killed during an IDF exercise in the Golan Heights on August 31, 2022 (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

According to a former officer who served in the Armored Corps, the loader is the only member of the tank crew who is always moving and who is in the most unstable area of the tank. A fatality of this nature is rare because the helmet is meant to provide protection. Nevertheless, loaders who get hit by the back of the turret, which is made of heavy steel, can be seriously injured.

Since Pichman had to be lying down for his head to be caught in that section of the tank, the military believes he had already fallen to the floor unconscious due to being hit by something in the tank, having had a cardiac arrest or having fainted.

While it was very hot during the day, the military said all proper procedures had been followed, and the incident took place when it was cooler. Nevertheless, the IDF said it would investigate whether Pichman had fainted due to dehydration.

Alongside an investigation by the Military Police, the IDF will attempt to reconstruct the event. It has appointed OC 205th Brigade Lt.-Col. Shaul Israeli to lead a committee of experts who will investigate the incident.

The investigation will be done in cooperation with the Armored Corps, and its conclusions will be presented to Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the IDF said.

The military will also open the tank’s black box to see if there were any technical malfunctions that could have led to Pichman’s death.

OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Amir Baram initiated a preliminary investigation at the scene of the incident shortly after it took place.

Pichman’s funeral will take place Wednesday night in the Beersheba Military Cemetery.