IDF confirms: Steering rod incorrectly installed, causing deadly chopper crash

Final report on last year’s Apache helicopter crash in which Maj. Dudi Zohar was killed finds maintenance instructions were missing a step

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An Israeli Air Force Apache helicopter (Hagar Amibar/ Israeli Air Force/Flickr)
An Israeli Air Force Apache helicopter (Hagar Amibar/ Israeli Air Force/Flickr)

The Israeli Air Force determined that last year’s deadly Apache helicopter crash was caused by a technician who improperly installed the aircraft’s rear steering rod, the army said Wednesday, with the release of the final report on the accident.

On August 7, Maj. (res) David “Dudi” Zohar and his copilot, Lt. On lost control of their attack helicopter after the rear steering rod came detached during a flight near the Ramon Air Base in southern Israel.

Zohar, 43, returned the helicopter to the base before it crashed on the runway, killing him and critically injuring On. (For security reasons, On’s last name cannot be published.)

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)

“This malfunction led the helicopter to sharply turn to the left, causing the crew to lose control of the steering of the tail rotor,” according to the air force’s report.

The investigators found that though the technician failed to correctly attach the steering rod, he had accurately followed the maintenance instructions, which were missing a step. They have since been updated.

For that reason, the technician was not punished.

“This was not a problem of one technician who didn’t tighten a screw,” an army official said.

The report credited Zohar’s actions with saving On’s life, as if they had tried to land in the field, they still would have crashed and the lieutenant would not have gotten the immediate medical treatment he needed.

An army spokesperson described On’s recovery since the crash as “incredible.” Two weeks ago, he returned to the air force, though he is still not cleared to fly, the army said.

The investigation into the crash was conducted with help from the manufacturer, Boeing, as well as the American military, which is the internationally recognized expert on Apache helicopters.

The findings of the report were also shared with the families of Zohar and On.

The final report confirmed two earlier interim investigations that identified the detached steering rod as the cause of the crash.

According to the IDF, this was the first accident of its kind.

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 spokesperson said that in the past, technicians apparently knew to properly tighten the steering rod without it being explicitly outlined in the instruction manual.

Following the crash, the air force’s entire fleet of Apache helicopters were taken out of service.

In September, after the interim reports were presented to the head of the air force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, the fleet began conducting exercises and some operational missions in the Gaza Strip. It is now back in full service.

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