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Two pilots killed in IDF helicopter crash off Haifa coast

Two named as Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel; third soldier sustains moderate injuries; chopper brought down by malfunction, not attack

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, 2022. Inset: The two soldiers killed, Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani (right) and Major Chen Fogel (Alon Nadav/Flash90; Israel Defense Forces)
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, 2022. Inset: The two soldiers killed, Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani (right) and Major Chen Fogel (Alon Nadav/Flash90; Israel Defense Forces)

Two Israel Defense Forces pilots died on Monday night when their military helicopter crashed off the coast of northern Israel.

A third crew member was recovered and taken to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center for treatment with moderate injuries. The hospital said he was in stable condition, being treated in its shock ward and would then be moved to its intensive care unit for further treatment.

IDF search-and-rescue teams pulled the other two crew members from the water and carried out resuscitation efforts but were unable to revive them.

The two were later named as Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel. Their families have been notified, the IDF said in a statement.

Sachyani, 38, a father of three, served as the deputy commander of the Ramat David Air Base. Fogel, 27, served as a pilot and deputy commander in the 193rd Squadron, which operates out of Ramat David. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of major from captain, the military said.

The IDF said the survivor was a naval patrol officer. The type of helicopter that crashed is usually crewed by a pilot, a co-pilot and a naval officer.

The helicopter went down in the Mediterranean Sea just off the port city of Haifa. The crash happened close enough to the coast for city residents to see flames from the shore and call it in to police.

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

The helicopter was flying at a low altitude prior to the crash.

The search-and-rescue teams included the IDF’s Unit 669, the navy’s elite Flotilla 13 commando unit and the navy’s Yaltam scuba unit.

An air force officer said the helicopter had taken off for a training exercise around 8 p.m. and crashed about an hour later.

Rescue forces pulled the surviving officer from the water about 1.5 kilometers (nearly 1 mile) offshore. He was brought to Haifa’s navy base and a waiting ambulance that rushed him to the hospital, Haaretz reported.

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)

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

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

Video footage taken just after the crash, which was quickly shared on social media, showed flaming wreckage not far off the coast. In one video, it appeared that the helicopter caught fire before hitting the water.

Additional videos showed that flares were launched over the area to assist search-and-rescue teams.

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, specifically Sa’ar-5 class models.

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopter lands on board the USS Laboon on May 13, 2015. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Desmond Parks/Released)

Fragments of the helicopter began washing onto shore soon after the crash.

According to the military, the helicopter was taking part in a training exercise when it went down.

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