They knew they wouldn't be coming back

The families of the fallen airmen recount stories of their loved ones.

air force 311 (photo credit: AP [illustrative])
air force 311
(photo credit: AP [illustrative])
Maggie Lakrif had planned a surprise party for her husband Nir this Tuesday to celebrate his 26th birthday.
“All his friends were going to get together at a restaurant,” she told The Jerusalem Post, and added, “Of course he knew nothing about it.”
Next month, around their wedding date of August 20, they had intended to head to Eilat for a romantic weekend to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
Instead of finalizing details for either event, Maggie, who is four months pregnant, has been at home on the Tel Nof air base since Monday, waiting for the IDF to fly her husband’s body home from Romania. Nir Lakrif, a lieutenant, was one of six Israeli airmen killed in the helicopter training flight accident Monday.
Initially, the families were told only about the accident and that their loved ones were missing. But relatives of the six said Thursday they had known right away that hope for a safe return was slim – that their loved ones would not be coming back.
Duby Keshet, whose son Maj. Yahel Keshet, 33, is among the dead, said the days of waiting had been difficult, but that he understood there was little that could be done. Initially, he and his wife Miri waited for information in his home on Moshav Sharona. But then they traveled down south to the Hatzerim air base to be with Yahel Keshet’s wife Hofit, and their two children, ages two and two months.
“As a father, I can tell you he was a wonderful boy,” said Keshet. When it came time to join the IDF at age 18, Yahel hadn’t known initially that he wanted to be in the air force, said Keshet. “He didn’t even play with kites,” said Keshet. But once he started with the air force, he fell in love with flying.
In Moshav Kidron, where Lt.- Col. Daniel Shipenbauer, 43, had just moved into a new home with his wife and three children – ages 16, 13 and eight – friends and family members filled the living room and spilled out onto the yard. Here they sat in semicircles on plastic chairs, speaking in low tones as the sun set.
Looking out at the fields that stretched out in back of the yard, Yaron Ozer, who is married to the pilot’s sister-in-law, said that it was this view that had caused Shipenbauer to fall in love with the place. But he had been here only two days before flying to Romania for the training mission, said Ozer.
He said Shipenbauer and his wife Yael were born in Uruguay and came to Israel as children with their families. They met in high school and fell in love.
Shipenbauer had two other loves outside of his family, said Ozer: sports and flying. He would run 8 to 10 kilometers every day, Ozer recalled.
As he spoke, a helicopter flew in the distance. Ozer saw it out of the corner of his eye, and turned away from the conversation to watch it for a moment.
During the Second Lebanon War, Ozer said, Shipenbauer lost a helicopter under his command. Ozer recalled how he had personally gone to the home of every one of the five airmen to speak to the families.
“I loved him very much,” said Ozer, who last saw him on Friday before he left for Romania. There was a family dinner, and he and his wife had come straight from unpacking. “He very much wanted to go to Romania,” said Ozer. He had joked it would give Yael time to fix up the house in his absence.
Maggie Lakrif said that her husband, who had also loved to fly, had similarly been eager to go on the trip. She told Channel 2 she had asked him not to go. For the Post, she recalled how the two had met 10 years ago at a birthday party of a mutual friend in high school.
She remembered that she had kissed a friend upon entering the room. Lakrif had been hanging out on a bed, seen them and yelled out, “I also want a kiss.”
But “I was a snob. I replied, ‘no chance,’” she said.
Still, she did spend some time at the party talking with him. He got her number from a mutual friend, called her a few days later, and they went out.
“It was clear from the start that we would be together for the long run,” she said.