Airwoman killed in 2014 Nepal blizzard recognized as IDF casualty

Defense Ministry awards Tamar Ariel, Israel’s first religious female navigator, with status after new evidence shows she tried to save others

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

Tamar Ariel during the December 27, 2012 IAF Flight School graduation ceremony, (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Tamar Ariel during the December 27, 2012 IAF Flight School graduation ceremony, (Edi Israel/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry on Wednesday recognized Cpt. Tamar Ariel, the Israeli Air Force’s first religious female navigator, who died in a snowstorm while on vacation in Nepal in 2014, as an official military casualty.

The ministry said the decision was made in light of new evidence indicating that Ariel was killed as she tried to save others caught in the blizzard.

In general, only the families of soldiers who fall in battle or in terror attacks receive this distinction, but exceptions are made for troops killed while trying to save lives.

As a result of the decision, Ariel’s family will be recognized as a bereaved family of a fallen IDF soldier, which grants them certain economic benefits from the state and non-governmental organizations.

“The recognition of Cpt. Ariel, of blessed memory… was made following a deep investigation by relevant professionals at the Defense Ministry and after new evidence was presented to the ministry that Tamar was killed while trying to save the lives of others,” the ministry said in a statement.

Ariel, one of six children, made headlines when she completed flight school as a fighter jet navigator in December 2012, the first Orthodox woman to do so. At her graduation ceremony, she stood out from her peers by wearing an ankle-length skirt in keeping with religious modesty norms.

“I don’t think that women need to go to flight school — I think that they can,” she told The Times of Israel at the time. “I recommend that any woman, religious or not, give it a shot. If they call you in, if you pass the tests, it means that the army thinks you can do it. So go ahead — try.”

During the war in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 she flew the greatest number of combat missions in her squadron, her commander said.

In October of that year, she went, along with another pilot, to vacation in Nepal and walk the Around Annapurna circuit at what is considered the optimal time of the year.

But a highly unusual storm blew through region, pelting the high mountain passes with snow. Ariel and dozens of other trekkers encountered the brunt of the storm on the Thorong La pass, the highest point on the circuit. Sapped of strength by the altitude, the cold and the fast-accumulating snow, Ariel could no longer walk as afternoon turned to evening and the clusters of trekkers tried to make their way down from the pass to safety.

She died in the snow along with Agam Luria, Nadav Shoham, Michal Charkesky, and 36 other people, half of whom were Nepali.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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