Defense attaché oversees rescue efforts

Shlomi Cohen finds himself at chopper crash site again.

Shlomi Cohen 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Shlomi Cohen 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BRAN, Romania – Col. Shlomi Cohen knows a thing or two about helicopter crashes.
In 1997, as chief operations officer for the Golani Brigade, Cohen was one of the first officers to arrive at the wreckage of two Israel Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopters – called Yasours by the IAF – which had collided in midair over the northern community of Sha’ar Yashuv on their way to Lebanon.
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Seventy-three soldiers were killed in “The Helicopter Disaster,” the worst aviation accident in Israeli history.
Cohen, who raced to the scene, immediately began pulling bodies out of the burning helicopters.
(On May 10, 1977, an Israel Air Force Sikorsky CH-53 Yasour helicopter crashed during an exercise in the Jordan Valley, killing all 54 on board, including the 10- member flight crew. The disaster became known as the “Disaster of the 54.”) Now the military attaché in Romania, Cohen went on Tuesday to the scene of the wreckage of the Yasour helicopter that crashed a day earlier in the Carpathian Mountains near the town of Bran, in what is one of the the worst overseas aviation accidents in Israeli history. Six IAF servicemen were killed – four pilots and two in-flight mechanics.
Cohen has been in Romania for about two years. Four years ago, he was leading troops in the war against Hizbullah in southern Lebanon as commander of an elite reserve brigade.
On Tuesday, together with other reporters, I accompanied Cohen on a long hike up the mountain toward the crash site.
The area is uninhabited and completely inaccessible to vehicles, even to 4x4 jeeps, which is why, almost 24 hours after the crash, rescue forces still had difficulty reaching the site.
By noon, though, a group of Israeli pilots – from the other helicopters that were here for the Blue Sky 2010 exercise – had succeeded in locating a landing point about 2 km. from the crash site and continued from there on foot. Once they arrived, the pilots secured the perimeter and waited for the IAF 669 search-and-rescue teams to arrive and begin extricating the remains of the Israeli crew members.
At the top of the mountain, Cohen received regular updates from the team of pilots and the Romanian security personnel who had arrived to assist the Israeli efforts.
The Romanians were impressed by Cohen’s presence on the mountain. That an Israeli colonel made a special trip to the site of the crash was something unusual for them.
Cohen was not in Romania when the helicopter crashed. He had come to Israel for meetings on Monday but after hearing about the disaster, he took the first flight back to lead the rescue efforts.
Before he left for Israel last week, Cohen met with the Israeli Yasour pilots. He said on Tuesday that they had been in high spirits and were pleased with the exercise.
“We are flying in places we have never flown before,” he recalled them saying.
“This is new terrain and it contributes a lot to our operational capabilities.”