Soldiers 'gave their lives for Israel’s security'

Bennett: IDF pilots killed in helicopter crash were ‘the best of us’

Prime minister sends condolences to families after two soldiers die in training accident; Defense Minister Gantz vows thorough investigation

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Washed up parts of a military helicopter lie on the ground after it crashed off the coast of Haifa on the night of January 3, 2022. (Alon Nadav/Flash90)
Washed up parts of a military helicopter lie on the ground after it crashed off the coast of Haifa on the night of January 3, 2022. (Alon Nadav/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said two military pilots who were killed in a helicopter crash were “the best of us” on Tuesday morning.

The pilots died in a training accident off the coast of northern Israel on Monday night.

The two were later named as Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani and and Major Chen Fogel. Their families have been notified, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

A third soldier who was in the helicopter survived and was in stable condition at a Haifa hospital.

“This is a very sad night. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the helicopter accident and a swift recovery for the injured officer,” Bennett said.

“The air force pilots who were lost in the accident were among the best of us. The people of Israel will not forget their contribution, day and night, to our national security,” Bennet said in a statement.

In a separate statement Tuesday afternoon, Bennett said: “We had a difficult night and this is a difficult day for Israel. We lost two sons, two pilots, some of our best, in an accident at sea. I share in the grief of the families for the loss of Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel, men who gave their lives for Israel’s security, day after day, night after night.”

Bennett also wished a swift recovery to the naval officer wounded in the crash.

Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani (right) and Major Chen Fogel, who were killed in a helicopter crash on January 3, 2022 (IDF Spokesperson)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he was “sending his heartfelt condolences to the families.”

“I have spoken to the IDF chief of staff, and I promise the IDF will investigate the incident and draw the necessary conclusions,” Gantz said. “I thank the rescue forces who acted quickly and in difficult conditions to locate the helicopter crew.”

Military spokesperson Ran Kochav responded to the fact that the news of the pilots’ deaths had been shared online before the military cleared it for publication, mostly on Whatsapp and Telegram channels.

“The publication of the news before the families of the casualties had been officially notified, despite explicit requests to not publish the details, is a blatant violation of procedure that has been respected for decades, based on concern for families at a difficult time,” Kochav said.

The statements came shortly after the military announced the pilots’ death in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning.

An Israeli army flare illuminates the sky during searches after a military helicopter crashed off the coast of Haifa on the night of January 3, 2021. (Alon Nadav/Flash90)

The helicopter crashed off the coast of the northern city of Haifa around 9 p.m. on Monday. The two pilots were pulled from the water by rescue forces, who were unable to resuscitate them.

Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin grounded all helicopters of the type that crashed, halted all training flights and appointed a team to investigate the crash.

The specific cause of the accident was not immediately known, but the air fore said it was a technical malfunction, not an attack.

The helicopter that crashed was a Eurocopter AS565 Panther, known by the IAF as an “Atalef,” or bat. The aircraft is used primarily for missions at sea as it is capable of landing on Israeli Navy missile ships.

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