IDF attack choppers declared operational 2 months after fatal crash

Apache helicopters to start returning to service following probe into death of pilot in accident caused by rare steering problem

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin takes part in a training flight of the Apache helicopters, which returned to operability on October 22, 2017, after two months of being grounded following a fatal crash. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin takes part in a training flight of the Apache helicopters, which returned to operability on October 22, 2017, after two months of being grounded following a fatal crash. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF’s fleet of Apache attack helicopters were declared operational two months after a fatal crash in which one pilot was killed and a second seriously wounded, the army announced Sunday.

While formally operational, the helicopters will not immediately be put to full service, but will instead have to go through a process of further checks, the IDF said.

This process is expected to take several weeks, if not several months. It comes after approximately a month of evaluations and assessments performed by air force maintenance teams.

Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Nurkin took part in the first flights of the Apache helicopters on Sunday, the army said.

The decision to return the fleet of Apache helicopters — Israel’s only attack helicopters — back into service was based on recommendations of an interim report on the crash, which took place on August 7.

Maj. (res.) David ‘Dudi’ Zohar, 43, of Haifa was killed in a helicopter crash at a base in southern Israel on August 7, 2017 (Israel Defense Forces)

The army released details from the interim report last month. The investigation found that the crash, which killed Maj. (res) David “Dudi” Zohar and severely injured his copilot, Lt. On, was caused by a rare malfunction of the steering system. (For security reasons, On’s last name cannot be published.)

A full report on the incident is forthcoming, but so far the military has been able to confirm that the stick used to control the rear rotor came dislodged during the flight, after an extended period of it weakening.

The malfunction was unique, never having occurred anywhere else in the world before, he said.

There was a somewhat similar case in 2007, involving a US military helicopter in Afghanistan. However, it was under different circumstances and occurred in a different version of the Apache helicopter, the army said

The August crash took place as Zohar and On were flying their helicopter as part of a process to bring the IDF’s Apache helicopters back to full service after the fleet was grounded in June for a separate, unrelated problem.

The entire flight — from takeoff from the Ramon Air Base to crash landing on the base’s tarmac — took approximately 45 minutes. The crash occurred at 9 p.m.

According to the army, the malfunction took place after 39 minutes. Once discovered, the pilots made their way back to the base; emergency landing was not possible in the field as protocol required the presence of emergency response vehicles.

The army credited their decision to return to the base with “saving the lieutenant’s life.”

After being seriously injured and spending weeks in the intensive care unit, Lt. On was moved to a recovery ward last month and is now in the stages of convalescence, the army said.

In the aftermath of the Apache crash, one of the first questions raised was whether it was caused by the same rotor problem that had grounded the army’s fleet of Apaches earlier in the summer.

After the June grounding of the Apache fleet, the helicopters were inspected for damage, yet the issue that would cause the steering malfunction in August was not discovered.

As part of the investigation the military is looking to see why the malfunction wasn’t found — for instance, if protocols did not require the inspection of the parts involved — and how such a problem could be found in the future.

IAF chief Norkin called for the investigating commission to share its findings with the United States military and Boeing, which manufactures the Apache.

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