Helicopter crash unrelated to earlier fault that grounded Apache fleet – IDF
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Helicopter crash unrelated to earlier fault that grounded Apache fleet – IDF

Army doesn't say what caused deadly accident that killed pilot, injured co-pilot, but it's not the rotor issue that affected the attack choppers

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli Air Force Apache helicopter (Mor Tzidon/ Israeli Air Force/Flickr)
An Israeli Air Force Apache helicopter (Mor Tzidon/ Israeli Air Force/Flickr)

An initial investigation of Monday night’s helicopter crash, in which the pilot was killed and co-pilot was seriously injured, found that it was not connected to a rotor problem that grounded the entire fleet of Apache attack helicopters earlier this year, the army said Tuesday.

However, the military said it could not yet offer more details on the cause of the crash.

Shortly before 9 p.m., Apache helicopter pilot Maj. (res.) David “Dudi” Zohar alerted the Ramon Air Base in southern Israel that his aircraft was experiencing an as-yet unidentified malfunction.

A few minutes later, as Zohar and his co-pilot were bringing their helicopter in for a landing on the base’s runway, it crashed. Zohar was killed; his co-pilot, a lieutenant on active duty, was critically wounded.

Maj. (res.) David 'Dudi' Zohar, 43, of Haifa was killed in a helicopter crash at a base in southern Israel on August 7, 2017 (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. (res.) David ‘Dudi’ Zohar, 43, of Haifa was killed in a helicopter crash at a base in southern Israel on August 7, 2017 (Israel Defense Forces)

The co-pilot was rushed to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in critical condition. At the hospital, doctors worked to stabilize his condition, performing operations throughout the night, a Soroka spokesperson said.

On Tuesday morning, he was brought the operating room. The spokesperson said he remained in serious condition in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

The major and lieutenant were members of the air force’s 190th Squadron, also known as the Magic Touch Squadron, which flies the Boeing Apache, specifically the AH-64A Peten (Cobra) model.

In the aftermath, one of the first questions raised was whether it was caused by the same rotor problem that grounded the army’s fleet of Apache helicopters earlier this summer.

In June, a crack was found in the rear rotor blade of a Boeing Apache helicopter, specifically an AH-64D Seraph (Winged-serpent). After the discovery, Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel barred the military’s two squadrons of attack helicopters from flying missions until an investigatory team could determine the underlying issue.

The inspections in June uncovered a second crack in the original helicopter, due to heavy use of the aircraft, which had clocked over 2,000 flight hours by the time the cracks had begun forming.

However, the air force did not discover this to be a widespread problem and the Apache helicopters were cleared for flights in July, though new safety regulations were instituted, including shortening the rotor blades’ lifespan by 80 percent and implementing regular X-ray checks of all blades.

Monday night’s fatal crash occurred during a training exercise that was part of the air force’s process of gradually returning the helicopters to full service, an army spokesperson said.

A full investigation, led by an air force colonel who served as a helicopter pilot, has yet to be completed. However, an initial probe did not uncover “a connection between the malfunction that took place [Monday] and the cause for the grounding of the fleet a month and a half ago,” the army said in a statement.

Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (Sivan Farraj)
Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (Sivan Farraj)

On Monday night, Eshel again grounded the entire Apache fleet, which provide close air support for ground troops, while other types of helicopters are used for troop movement and supply transportation.

The attack helicopters will remain out of service until the colonel finishes his investigation, the army said.

Zohar, a 43-year-old captain in the reserves, was scheduled to be buried in the military cemetery in Haifa, his hometown, at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the army said.

His family requested a private funeral, with no media coverage.

As the military does not release the names of pilots, the critically injured co-pilot can only be identified as a lieutenant. They were the only two on board.

The army kept news of the crash under a military censor until the families of the crewmen could be notified.

In the time between the training accident and the removal of the censor, rumors spread on social media that a senior officer was wounded or killed in the crash. The army vehemently denied the false reports.

Monday’s crash also came after another Apache helicopter carried out an emergency landing in the Hebron Hills in the southern West Bank on July 23 following a technical issue with the aircraft.

The army would not specify the nature of the problem; however, the Walla news site reported at the time that the rear of the aircraft began shaking, which was not in itself dangerous, but could be indicative of a more serious problem.

As soon as the helicopter was back in working order, “it took off and returned to its base,” according to an army statement at the time.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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