IDF releases names of 6 missing IAF men

Romanian soldier aboard fallen Sikorsky CH-53 also believed dead.

IAF helicopter 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
IAF helicopter 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ROMANIA - Six Israeli Air Force servicemen and one Romanian soldier were believed to have been killed on Monday in a helicopter crash in Romania, in one of Israel’s worst military aviation accidents in recent years.
The IDF released the names of the six Israelis involved in the crash early Tuesday: 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 Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen, 24, from Rehovot.
RELATED:Background: After 40 years, Yasour still believed to be reliableAnalysis: The IAF's helicopter program
The crew members’ families were notified of the incident.
Searches were renewed Tuesday morning at the Romanian site where the Israeli military helicopter crashed, despite poor weather conditions and harsh terrain. The helicopter crashed in a sharp ravine making it very difficult for rescue teams to reach the scene of the crash, Romanian officials reported.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was following the updates from Romania, and discussing the incident with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, according to a statement late Monday night.
Netanyahu offered his support to the families of the soldiers and commanders who were aboard the helicopter which crashed and sent them a "hug" from the entire nation.
Ashkenazi informed Barak on the crash upon the latter’s landing in Washington DC. The defense minister was being constantly updated, according to a statement from Barak’s office.
The Romanian authorities have declared the area surrounding the crash site a closed military zone and since the morning police and security forces have been streaming into the area. Located in the steep and narrow Carpathians mountains, the site of the crash could only be accessed by foot or by air.
The Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter – called Yasour by the IAF – was participating in the Blue Sky 2010 joint search-and-rescue exercise in central Romania. According to initial findings, the crash appeared to be the result of a malfunction in the tail of the helicopter.
After 40 years, the Yasour is still believed to be a reliable helicopter transport.
The crew consisted of four Israeli pilots, two Israeli airborne mechanics and a Romanian military observer, according to Romanian media reports.
Romanian Defense Ministry spokesman Constantin Spanu said there was no information on whether there were survivors, and that officials were scrambling to reach the accident site near the town of Zarnesti, some 120 kilometers northwest of Bucharest.
Spanu said the helicopter had been flying at low altitude when radio contact with it was lost mid-afternoon Monday.
Romanian officials said the helicopter had encountered a mechanical malfunction last week, but was repaired by IAF technical teams. The helicopters were from a squadron of the IAF known as the “Night Birds.”
The exercise began on July 18 and was supposed to end later this week. During Monday’s flight, three helicopters were flying in central Romania practicing search-and-rescue techniques.
Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea immediately established a committee to probe the cause of the accident.
As a result of the incident, training maneuvers have been suspended in Romania Tuesday.
IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan spoke with his Romanian counterpart Maj.- Gen. Ion-Aurel Stanciu, and the two decided to establish a joint commission of inquiry.
An IAF Hercules aircraft will depart to Romania on Tuesday with medical teams, as well as officers from the IDF Rabbinate to assist in identifying the bodies.
An IAF brigadier-general is heading the Israeli research team, the army said.
Brig.-Gen Nimrod Shefer, deputy commander of the air force, said that all possibilities were being looked into, including a technical malfunction, a human error that may have caused the crash.
“The exercise was planned in advance and is part of an ongoing cooperation with Romania and other countries, and is meant to train our pilots to fly in new and unfamiliar terrain,” Shefer said late Monday night.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi informed Defense Minister Ehud Barak of the crash upon Barak’s landing in Washington, a statement from Barak’s office said, adding that he was being updated constantly.
The Israeli helicopters flew to Romania last week after stopping off to refuel in Greece. The joint Israeli-Romanian exercise was the first in a number of years and since the countries signed a joint defense agreement in 2006.
The five-year agreement was signed by then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz and his Romanian counterpart. According to the deal, IDF forces and aircraft would be allowed to deploy in Romania for joint training exercises.
Since Israel has been locked out of Turkey due to deteriorating ties, the IAF has been on the lookout for new training grounds to drill long-range flights, which are difficult in Israel due to the limited airspace. The Jerusalem Post reported in April that the IAF was planning to send aircraft to Romania by the end of the year. The last time the IAF trained in Romania was in 2007.
AP contributed to this report.