IAF probes botched minefield rescue that led to man's death

Wadi Ara man falls to his death during helicopter evacuation.

The Israel Air Force began an investigation on Thursday into an airborne accident that led to the death of a man who fell as he was being evacuated by helicopter. The incident happened on Wednesday evening, when Ala Muhammad, 24, from Wadi Ara, went on a hike with several friends near Beit She'an. Muhammad mistakenly entered a minefield and was seriously injured in the legs after he set one off. A team from the IAF's elite Unit 669 Airborne Rescue and Evacuation Unit arrived at the scene to evacuate him. Two soldiers rappelled by rope down to the injured man, attached a cable to his waist and began lifting him up into the helicopter. As he was being pulled in, there was a malfunction and he plunged to his death. Military sources said Unit 669 was deeply shocked by the incident and pointed to the fact that the unit carried out dozens of rescue operations a year across the country and in similar circumstances. "It appears that there was a technical malfunction," one official said. "The investigation is looking to see if negligence played a role here." The probe was announced immediately following the accident by OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan, officials said. Unit 669 is one of the IDF's most respected special forces units and has a grueling 18-month training regime. In peacetime, Unit 669 serves as civilian medevac for hikers who have gotten lost or stuck. These civilian operations help train the unit fighters for their battle-time roles. Its teams participated in the Second Lebanon War and the recent Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, and in some cases evacuated wounded soldiers while coming under enemy fire.