A helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula involving a multinational observer force killed seven people on Thursday — five Americans, a French national and a Czech citizen, the force said.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss on November 12, 2020, of seven of our uniformed military colleagues from three countries who died in a helicopter crash during a routine mission. This included one Czech, one French, and five US MFO members,” the peacekeeping force said late Thursday.
Throughout the day conflicting numbers about the final death toll were given by the MFO.
Another member of the force, an American, survived and was medically evacuated to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, Israel, the MFO added.
“An IDF helicopter carrying elite search and rescue soldiers… evacuated an injured American MFO peacekeeper to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment,” the Israeli military said.
This event is a tragedy for the MFO, who work to promote stability between Israel & Egypt.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) November 12, 2020
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi sent his condolences to the families of the victims on Thursday in a tweet posted by a spokesperson, stressing that “security and stability in the region is extremely important.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement that the servicemen “lost their lives while bravely protecting the stability, security, and peace of our region.”
President Reuven Rivlin said, “My deepest condolences to the… families who are mourning the loss of their loved ones today in the US, France and Czechia.”
“Their loss is a tragedy. My prayers for the full and swift recovery of the survivor,” Rivlin said.
US President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement: “I extend my deep condolences to the loved ones of the peacekeepers… and wish a speedy recovery to the surviving American. I join all Americans in honoring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers.”
The peacekeeping force was set up by Israel and Egypt to supervise parts of their 1979 historic peace treaty after the United Nations did not approve a peacekeeping force for the Sinai.
The force was established as an alternative to a UN mission, but has consistently had significant international backing, notably from the United States. It includes personnel from 13 countries with over 400 Americans serving in the 1,100-strong international outfit.
Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is facing a hardened insurgency affiliated with the Islamic State group in the north of the restive region while the south boasts touristic resort towns by the Red Sea, near where the crash happened.
Egyptian officials from the South Sinai governor’s office would not provide further details to AFP on the exact crash site, nor would the MFO.
The country’s military spokesperson also could not be reached.
In February 2018, security forces launched a nationwide operation against militants, focused on North Sinai. More than 930 suspected militants have been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel, according to official figures.
No independently verified death toll is available and the region is largely cut off to journalists.
The multinational force said in its statement that it would conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
“At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident,” the MFO said.
The Czech army said in a statement that “the cause of the crash was a technical defect,” identifying the Czech victim as sergeant Michaela Ticha, born in 1993.
“I am terribly sorry. You can never get ready for some things. Condolences to her family,” tweeted Czech chief-of-staff, Ales Opata.
The MFO currently has more than 1,100 troops, including from Australia, the United States, Canada and France, and receives funding from Egypt, Israel and the US.
The force’s website lists only one French member in its contingent, a liaison officer.