After 56 years of searching, IDF finds remains of pilot in Sea of Galilee

Military says Lt. Yakir Naveh’s body discovered using new technologies, which helped sift through silty bottom of the lake

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Lt. Yakir Naveh, whose airplane crashed in the Sea of Galilee in May 1962. (Israeli Air Force)
Lt. Yakir Naveh, whose airplane crashed in the Sea of Galilee in May 1962. (Israeli Air Force)

The Israeli military recently discovered the remains of a pilot, Lt. Yakir Naveh, who has been missing since his plane crashed into the Sea of Galilee 56 years ago, the army said Tuesday.

The remains were discovered on October 25 on the bottom of the Sea of Galilee, along with pieces of the aircraft.

Once they were found, the remains were sent to a forensic laboratory for identification, the army said.

The military’s Manpower Directorate informed the pilot’s family that his remains had been found, the army said.

Israeli soldiers sift through mud from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee as part of a search for Lt. Yakir Naveh, whose plane crashed in 1962. (Israel Defense Forces)

His funeral was scheduled for November 13 at 3 p.m. at Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul military cemetery.

On May 6, 1962, Naveh was training a cadet on a Fouga Magister when their plane got too low over the water and the engine cut out. The nose of the plane hit the water, sending them into a fierce spin, wing over wing.

Cpl. Sahar Nitzan begins his descent to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee to search for missing pilot Lt. Yakir Naveh, whose plane crashed in 1962, on April 6, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

A year later, a search team found the body of the cadet who had been flying the plane, Oded Kouton, but no trace of Naveh.

In 2000, the Israel Defense Forces renewed its searches for the pilot.

On October 16, the military began its 12th round of searches for the pilot’s remains.

Until now, Naveh had been considered a soldier who is confirmed dead, but whose burial place is unknown.

Larger pieces of the plane — the wings and canopy — were found relatively quickly, leaving only smaller pieces behind.

Lt. Yakir Naveh’s watch, found at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. (Israeli Air Force)

Military divers had previously found Naveh’s watch, pistol and pieces of his pilot’s chair.

Naveh was born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan in 1939. He was 23 years old and newly married at the time of the accident.

Though the Sea of Galilee is a relatively small body of water, search efforts in the lake have been described as “hellish” for divers, as the soft, silty bottom reduces visibility to a minimum.

“It’s complete darkness, complete darkness,” the head of an IDF dive team searching for Naveh told The Times of Israel in 2016. “And it’s cold. We’re talking about 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 C°).”

(Hypothermia can set in at water temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Because of the depth, divers could also only remain below the surface for approximately half an hour at a time before they had to come up in order to avoid decompression sickness.

Lt. Yakir Naveh, whose airplane crashed in the Sea of Galilee in May 1962. (Israeli Air Force)

The military said the remains were discovered with help from an external company, which provided “modern and advanced technologies” that helped sift through the ground around the crash site.

“This effort is part of the IDF’s moral and ethical commitment to finding all missing soldiers and captives, and all IDF soldiers whose burial places are unknown,” the army said.

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