IDF resumes training exercises halted after soldier died in tank accident

Chief of Ground Forces instructs units to review armored vehicle safety instructions and findings of initial probe; Sgt. Eitan Fichman buried

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A soldier stands atop a tank ahead of a night drill in the central Golan Heights, on August 29, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A soldier stands atop a tank ahead of a night drill in the central Golan Heights, on August 29, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday morning announced it would be resuming training exercises, a day after they were halted following an accident that caused the death of a soldier.

On Tuesday night, 19-year-old Eitan Fichman, a tank loader from the 82nd Armored Corps Battalion, was killed after sustaining a “severe head injury” during a live fire drill in the Golan Heights. According to the IDF’s initial probe, Fichman was found with his head in an unsafe area between the turret and the hull. Soldiers under no circumstances may put any body parts into this gap while the turret’s movement system is on, according to IDF protocols.

Following the incident, the commander of the IDF’s Ground Forces, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, ordered a halt to all training exercises involving armored vehicles, aside from shooting range practice, until the matter was investigated further.

On Thursday, Yadai announced the resumption of exercises, once the relevant units review the safety instructions for armored vehicles and the findings of the initial probe.

“The conclusions of the investigations will be learned and studied in the field,” the IDF said in a statement.

The initial probe said the soldier may have hit his head while the tank was driving or collapsed due to an unspecified medical condition, and then fallen into the unsafe area of the tank.

IDF soldier Eitan Fichman, 19. who was killed in a training accident on August 30, 2022 (Israel Defense Forces)

The investigation said that while the tank was driving, the commander noticed that the loader was not responding. The team then stopped and removed the soldier from the tank, and the exercise was halted. Fichman’s death was declared by medical teams who came to take him to a nearby base for treatment.

The incident was described by the IDF as “extremely rare” and it was not fully clear how the soldier ended up in the unsafe area of the tank. A former tank driver described the area to The Times of Israel as the tank’s “triangle of death.” He said it is just behind where the loader stands, and they are trained not to fall in while the turret’s electronic movement systems are on, especially when it is in motion.

Officers who inspected the scene found there had been seemingly no issues with the tank itself, the forces operating it, or the conditions in which the drill was held. The soldier’s helmet was taken for examination.

This area marked in red, shows an unsafe gap between a tank’s hull and moving turret. (The Times of Israel)

The IDF said the chief of the Northern Command had appointed Col. Shaul Israeli, the commander of the 205th Brigade, to lead a team of experts that would investigate the matter.

Separately, a Military Police probe was opened that would submit its findings to the Military General Advocate Corps for evaluation.

Fichman was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant. He was buried Wednesday night at the military cemetery in Beersheba, his hometown.

His sister Shira told Channel 12 news that the family was left with many questions. “We don’t understand what happened, we have no answers as to what happened there,” she said.

“We know that he functioned professionally and impeccably. No explanation makes sense. He was healthy,” she added.

Tuesday’s accident came after an Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Nathan Fitoussi, was misidentified as a threat and shot dead by a comrade earlier this month near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem, amid reports of additional operational safety lapses.

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