A senior Israeli Air Force officer on Tuesday said three of the eight F-16 fighter jets damaged in a flood earlier this month would remain out of commission for two to three months, correcting its earlier estimate that the repairs would take approximately a week.
The other five aircraft were scheduled to return to service in the coming days, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this month, as massive rainstorms battered the country, a stream near the Hatzor air base in southern Israel flooded its banks, sending large amounts of water — some 50 million liters (13 million gallons) — into the base in the span of half an hour, according to the IAF.
Eight F-16 fighter jets were damaged in the flood when their underground hangars flooded. The air force acknowledged making “a mistake” in failing to move the aircraft to safety. IAF chief Amikam Norkin called for a full investigation of the incident, which the senior air force officer on Tuesday said was in the process of being completed.
Initially, the air force said the eight fighter jets would return to service in approximately a week. On Tuesday night, the officer acknowledged that these estimates were partially incorrect.
Though the majority of the aircraft were due to return to serve shortly, three of them would remain grounded for further repairs.
According to the official, the high rain waters may have damaged some of the electronics inside the three aircraft.
“We don’t plan to take any chances with them, so they will go through a more thorough treatment,” the officer said.
The officer said the military did not yet have an exact estimate of how much this “mistake” would cost in repairs for the F-16s, but dismissed the initial assessments reported by a number of media outlets that it would be in the hundreds of millions of shekels.
“It is far from the hundreds of millions that were reported,” the officer said.
The military censor initially barred media outlets from reporting on the incident, drawing criticism that it was doing so not to prevent damage to national security but to cover up an embarrassing episode for the air force.
The flooding occurred as heavy rains lashed Israel earlier this month, causing widespread flooding in several cities. Authorities have faced criticism over inadequate drainage infrastructure to deal with the rains, which have been tied to multiple deaths.
Areas of Israel have experienced one of the wettest winters on record, with some cities repeatedly deluged in the downpours.