IDF chopper makes emergency landing after engine catches fire; no injuries

14 soldiers on board escape burning Sikorsky transport helicopter unscathed, after landing outside Rahat in southern Israel; military launches investigation

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

A military helicopter made an emergency landing in southern Israel on Tuesday night after its engine caught fire, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The 14 soldiers who were on board made it out of the helicopter unscathed, landing in a field outside the community of Beit Kama, near Rahat, in the northern Negev desert.

The aircraft — a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion model, known in Israel as a Yasur — appeared to be completely destroyed in the blaze.

The military said the engine fire was the result of a “technical malfunction.”

“The incident will be investigated,” the IDF said.

Fourteen soldiers were on board the aircraft — 11 of them were members of the elite Shaldag commando unit and three were members of the crew. The helicopter had been en route to a base in southern Israel for a training exercise.

Three teams of firefighters were called to the scene to combat the blaze.

“We were notified of a helicopter fire west of Beit Kama. As this was a complicated situation, additional firefighting teams were called to the scene and, when we arrived, we all worked to put out the fire and to look for anyone trapped inside. Luckily, the occupants of the helicopter made it out intact and healthy before we arrived at the scene,” local fire chief Avi Arush said.

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze on a helicopter that made an emergency landing in a field outside of Rahat in the Negev desert on November 26, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Israel’s fleet of Yasur heavy transport helicopters was purchased from the United States in the late 1960s. Though the aircraft have been upgraded and restored in the interim five decades, they are widely seen in the military as ready for retirement in favor of newer models.

In 2010, an IDF Yasur helicopter crashed during a joint exercise of the Israeli Air Force and Romanian Air Force, killing the five people on board.

That crash was found to have apparently been caused by human error.

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