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Air force grounds fleet of Black Hawk helicopters after multiple malfunctions

Move comes a month after a motor in one chopper stopped working in mid-air while IDF chief Aviv Kohavi was being transported

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

Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopters land on top of Mount Olympus during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)
Israeli Air Force Blackhawk helicopters land on top of Mount Olympus during a 16-day exercise in Greece in September 2016. (Israeli Air Force)

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin grounded the military’s fleet of Black Hawk helicopters for all non-operational flights after they suffered a number of malfunctions over the past two months, the military said.

The move came just over a month after one of the helicopters experienced a technical failure in mid-air while it was transporting IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

“The commander of the Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, decided to ground the fleet of Yanshuf helicopters from training and transport activities following a number of technical malfunctions that occurred in the helicopters’ motors in the past two months,” the air force said in a statement, using the IAF’s designation for the aircraft.

The Black Hawk helicopters, which are used for both routine transportation missions and to drop off and pick up troops during military operations, will be inspected by air force technicians to determine the cause of recent motor issues.

“Until the end [of the investigation], the fleet will be grounded, save for operational activities,” the air force said, referring to combat action.

Israel's ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, left, with United Nation's Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, in a helicopter as they review the security situation along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, August 30, 2017. (Israel UN/Shlomi Amsalem)
Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, left, with United Nation’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, in a helicopter as they review the security situation along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, August 30, 2017. (Israel UN/Shlomi Amsalem)

Last month, the helicopter carrying the chief of staff experienced a technical malfunction in one of its motors in mid-air, forcing it to make a rapid landing at a nearby base after it plummeted to some 30 meters (100 feet) from the ground.

“The immediate actions by the flight crew allowed them to handle the malfunction safely, and at no time was there a threat to the lives of the passengers,” the IDF said.

But Channel 12, which first reported on the matter, said the incident nearly led to a “disaster” due to incorrect handling of the situation by the flight crew.

Illustrative. A military helicopter searches for missing people near the Dead Sea on April 26, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

It said the flight crew behaved incorrectly during the incident, shutting down the aircraft’s working motor instead of the failing one, thus causing the helicopter to quickly lose altitude before they realized their error and corrected it, enabling the aircraft to stabilize.

The helicopter, which was transporting Kohavi from the Knesset in Jerusalem to an undisclosed military base, was then able to land at the Tel Nof Air Base in central Israel, from which a second helicopter ferried the army chief the rest of the way, the military said.

Last year, Norkin grounded the military’s aging fleet of Yasur heavy transport helicopters after one of those aircraft made a crash landing and caught fire due to a malfunction, the military said.

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