IDF helicopter crash: Interim report unable to determine cause

The IDF believes that the likely crash of the helicopter was due to a fire that broke out in the left engine.

An Atalef helicopter, demonstrating a search-and-rescue operation, during an airshow at Ramat David Airbase in 2009.  (photo credit: Ofer Zidon /Flash90.)
An Atalef helicopter, demonstrating a search-and-rescue operation, during an airshow at Ramat David Airbase in 2009.
(photo credit: Ofer Zidon /Flash90.)

The preliminary investigation into a deadly helicopter crash last week off the coast of Haifa has been unable to determine the causes of the technical malfunction and cause of death of the two pilots, the military said Thursday night.

Two IDF pilots, Lt.-Col Erez Sachaini and Maj. Hen Fogel, died after their helicopter – an Atalef AS565 Panther – went down after a fire broke out in the left engine and crashed off the coast. The third crew member, naval officer Cpt. Ron Birman, survived.

The findings of the interim report were given to Israel Air Force Head Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin on Wednesday.

The military believes the crash of the helicopter was likely due to a fire that broke out in the left engine. According to the preliminary investigation, there were also signs of damage to the right engine. No signs of fire have yet been found inside the remains of the helicopter.

Despite the complex technical malfunction “that developed rapidly in dark conditions at an altitude of 700-800 meters above sea level,” the crew were able to identify the malfunction, activate fire extinguishing systems for the engine, shut down electrical systems to prevent the spread of the fire, and operate the emergency buoyancy systems for a landing at sea.

 Victims of the IDF helicopter crash. (credit: IAF) Victims of the IDF helicopter crash. (credit: IAF)

According to the report, there were no indications that the helicopter was hit by birds, another aircraft, or was downed as a result of hostile activity.

The report stated that there was no evidence that the pilots attempted to get out of the helicopter, likely due to injuries that they sustained when they crashed, and that due to the circumstances, rescue forces would not have been able to save them. The report also said that the sea was relatively calm that night and contributed to Birman’s rescue

Following the crash, all recovered pieces of the helicopter were taken to Tel Nof airbase for the investigation that is being carried out in full cooperation with the French civilian company that builds the AS565 Panther. As part of the investigation, the recording system of the helicopter has been partially restored and the engines will be sent to France for further inspection.

Since the cause of the fire has yet to be determined, the fleet remains grounded.

“This is a serious and unfortunate accident that occurred during training,” said Norkin. “Throughout the incident, the pilots and the naval patrol officer worked together, calmly and in full cooperation, in order to prevent the helicopter from crashing into the sea.

“Every accident is preventable,” he added. “We will continue to turn over every stone to get to the truth in a professional manner and we will use all the necessary resources in order to understand the reason why the accident happened.”