An IDF Apache helicopter crashed in southern Israel, killing one pilot and critically injuring the second, the IDF said on Monday night.
According to IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, at around 9 p.m. the Apache helicopter from the Magic Touch Squadron was returning from a training exercise when it alerted the tower at Ramon Airbase that it was experiencing a technical issue.
The Apache was on its final approach to land when it came down inside the base, Manelis said, adding that there were only moments between the pilots alerting the tower and when it crashed.
The pilot, Dudi Zohar, was confirmed dead and the navigator was critically injured and evacuated to Saroka Hospital in Beersheba.
According to Manelis, an initial team arrived at the site shortly after the crash, and senior IDF officials will fully investigate the cause.Israel has two squadrons of Apaches, which fly out of the Ramon Air Base in the Negev desert and provide close air support for ground troops.
Following the crash, the Air Force grounded all Apaches. It is not known if the cause of the crash was related to issues with the rear rotor blade of the Apache.
In June, IAF chief Major General Amir Eshel grounded the entire fleet of Apache helicopters after a technician found a crack in the blade of one of the helicopters during a routine maintenance check. Eshel had called for an investigation into what exactly had caused the damage to the blade.
According to a senior Air Force officer, the “thorough, microscopic and intensive” investigation carried out by the IAF along with the Boeing as well as the US army revealed that a crack developed due to material fatigue after two thousand hours of flight. They also discovered a different crack which was found in another area of the helicopter.
“During the investigation, we located a number of small defects deep within the blade that were probably caused by the blade manufacturing process. We believe that, on the basis of the investigation, over time and after thousands of hours of flight, a crack developed due to fatigue,” the senior officer said at the time.
The IAF therefore decided to shorten the life of the blades by 80%, from 4,600 hours to 995 flight hours.
“This policy is different from the recommendations of the manufacturer as well as different from the way the US military works. The manufacturer’s recommendation was not to change” the flight hours of the blades, a senior air force officer stated at the time, adding that “we are much more stringent in this regard.”
The IAF said it would also perform an X-ray test for all Apache blades, and have already finished checking over 40 blades and will continue its strict policy of maintenance by technicians who check the helicopter before each flight as well as after every 50 hours of flight.
In late July, an Apache made an emergency landing in the West Bank after the pilot reported vibrations in the back of the aircraft. The pilot was not injured and the helicopter suffered no damage and returned to base a few hours later. The IDF said the incident was under investigation.
The IDF sent its condolences to the family of the officer who was killed and stated that it would continue to support the injured officer and his family.
Eshel ordered the establishment of a team of experts headed by a senior officer to examine the circumstances of the incident. Eshel also instructed that the entire fleet of Apache helicopters be grounded until the end of the investigation.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office said that all rumors about the deaths or injuries of other senior commanders in the incident are incorrect.