The military helicopter that crashed off northern Israel’s coast on Monday night, killing two pilots, disappeared suddenly and without warning, an Israeli Air Force officer said.
The helicopter crashed off Haifa’s coast during a training flight. The aircraft’s two pilots died in the accident, and a naval officer who was also onboard survived as he was able to escape the helicopter after it went down, IAF Brig. Gen. Amir Lazar told reporters in a phone briefing in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning.
“This is a difficult and painful accident,” he said.
The pilots were recovered from the cockpit after the helicopter sank beneath the waves in a complex recovery operation carried out in darkness. First responders attempted life-saving resuscitation efforts but were unable to revive the pilots, who suffered from severe hypothermia.
The two were later named as Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani and Major Chen Fogel. Their families were notified, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
The military said it did not yet know what caused the crash, but labeled it an accident.
“We can’t yet guess what happened. The helicopters are older, but they are durable,” said Lazar, the head of the IAF’s Air Division.
According to the officer, there was no distress call to the control tower before the crash, nor did rescuers recover an onboard recording to indicate what caused the aircraft to go down.
“No call was heard on the radio before the accident. It disappeared from the monitoring screen, and then there was a report of a helicopter that hit the water. It activated all systems and rescue forces,” Lazar said
He said the helicopter had been in the air for roughly an hour for a training flight and crashed on its way back to the Ramat David Air Base. Both pilots were still in active service and were “very experienced,” Lazar said.
The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS565 Panther, known by the IAF as an “Atalef,” or bat, is used primarily for maritime operations and is therefore equipped with a mechanism that allows it to float on the water.
“We don’t know if it was activated, but the helicopter went underwater,” Lazar said.
The pilots did not extricate themselves from the doomed aircraft and were pulled out by scuba divers, he said.
Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin grounded all AS565 Panther helicopters, halted all air force training flights and appointed a team to investigate the crash.
“These helicopters are well-used but very reliable and operate consistently with the navy. The technical components will be carefully investigated,” Lazar said.
The surviving officer was transported to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa while fully conscious. A hospital official said he suffered light bone injuries and received urgent care for hypothermia. He was in “very stable” condition, the official said.
The military closed off the coastline near where the crash happened and dozens of soldiers scoured the area, looking for fragments of the helicopter. Pieces of the helicopter began washing onto shore soon after the crash.
The crash happened close enough to the coast for Haifa residents to see flames from the shore and call it in to police. Rescue forces pulled the surviving officer from the water about 1.5 kilometers (nearly one mile) offshore.
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. A bystander can be heard in the video saying, “A meteor is coming down.”
— Local Focus – Security Alerts (@LocalFocus1) January 3, 2022