Air force officer admits mistake in not moving jets to safety during flood

After eight F-16s stored in an underground hangar were damaged in last week’s rainstorm, military says it will get them up and running in at most a week

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

An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on the Hatzor air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)
An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on the Hatzor air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)

An Israeli Air Force officer on Monday acknowledged that the military made a mistake by not removing a number of fighter jets from their underground hangars during a heavy rainstorm last week.

According to the military, eight F-16 fighter jets were damaged when the hangars flooded at the Hatzor air base in southern Israel. The planes were expected to return to service in less than a week, after costly repairs are made.

“It was a mistake not to empty the underground hangars,” the air force officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The military censor initially barred media outlets from reporting on the incident, drawing criticism that it was doing so not to prevent damage to national security but to cover up an embarrassing episode for the air force.

The flooding occurred as heavy rains lashed Israel on Thursday, causing widespread flooding in several cities. Authorities have faced criticism over inadequate drainage infrastructure do deal with the rains. At least seven people have been killed in floods so far this winter.

Channel 12 news reported that several mechanics needed to be rescued from the flooded hangars, with waters reaching more than one and a half meters (4.5 feet) in depth. The IDF would not immediate confirm that report, but said that no soldiers were injured in the flood.

The officer noted that adequate precautions had been taken at other air bases and that no other equipment was damaged in the storm.

An F-16 fighter jet sits in a flooded hangar on the Hatzor air force base in southern Israel in January 2020. (Social media)

“Until 5 a.m., the base was dry. From 5 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., approximately 50,000 cubic meters (13 million gallons) of water flooded the base,” the officer said.

The planes were kept in an underground hangar, known in Hebrew by the acronym datak, which flooded with the sudden gush of rainwater.

According to the officer, five planes were very lightly harmed by the floodwaters while the other three were more seriously damaged.

“The assessment is that in at most a week, they will all return to service,” the officer said.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the military did not yet know precisely how much it would cost to fix the planes. Initial estimates ranged from the millions to tens of millions of shekels.

The air force officer said an initial investigation of the mistake had been completed and that “lessons were learned.”

The officer added that the flooding “did not harm the operational ability of the air force.”

On Sunday, all runways were cleared and flights at the Hatzor air base returned to normal, the officer said.

The military said staff on the air force base pumped the rainwater out of the hangars over the weekend.

Areas of Israel have experienced one of the wettest winters on record, with some cities repeatedly deluged in the downpours.

A military truck evacuates residents through a flooded road in the northern city of Nahariya, on a stormy winter day, on January 8, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Last week’s rainfall caused extensive flooding in Nahariya, a coastal city of some 50,000 near the Lebanon border.

Tractors and military vehicles were used to help transport residents across the water-filled streets as they became trapped by rising waters.

An Israeli man — Moti Ben Shabbat, 38 — was killed by floodwaters in the city on Wednesday as he tried to rescue a mother and child trapped in their car. Earlier this month, two people died in Tel Aviv, after they were trapped in a flooded elevator.

Others have been killed when their cars were swept away in flash floods.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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