IDF soldier drowns in rain-swollen stream during exercise
Fallen serviceman identified as Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20

IDF soldier drowns in rain-swollen stream during exercise

Paratrooper Evyatar Yosefi tried to cross the water to regroup with unit during navigation drill, but slipped and fell into the rushing river

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

Paratrooper Evyatar Yosefi, 20, drowned during a training exercise in northern Israel on January 7, 2018. (Facebook)
Paratrooper Evyatar Yosefi, 20, drowned during a training exercise in northern Israel on January 7, 2018. (Facebook)

The Israeli military launched three investigations into the drowning death of a paratrooper during a navigation exercise in northern Israel early Monday morning, an army official said.

The Israel Defense Forces initially censored the fact that the young man had died and that he was a soldier. News outlets were only permitted to report that he was in critical condition until the serviceman’s family could be notified of his death.

The military later identified the fallen soldier as Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Shmuel. Yosefi was promoted in rank to sergeant upon his death.

All navigation exercises in the military were called off until an initial investigation into Yosefi’s death was completed.

The soldier’s unit had been hiking around the Hilazon stream near the northern city of Karmiel this week, working in pairs to learn how to navigate and survive in the wilderness.

Before dawn on Monday, the paratrooper and his comrade received the order over the radio that the unit was regrouping. As they made their way to the designated spot, the pair came to the Hilazon stream, which was swollen from the previous night’s rainfall.

They decided to cross the stream, and Yosefi slipped on the muddy riverbank as he got to the other side and fell into the water, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

His partner threw him a rope, but the paratrooper couldn’t hold onto it and was swept away, the officer said.

The other soldier used his radio to call for help. Both civilian and military search-and-rescue forces were brought in to search for the soldier, including the Israeli Air Force’s elite helicopter-borne Unit 669.

A few hours after the search began, Yosefi was found dead approximately 100 meters (330 feet) from where he had slipped into the stream, the IDF official said.

“This is a very tragic event,” the officer said.

The navigation exercise had been approved by the relevant bodies, including by the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade. This process included checking the weather conditions, according to the official.

The soldiers had not received specific safety instruction about the risks posed by the rainfall as it only rained after they began their navigation exercise, the officer said.

Yosefi’s body was taken to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Two other soldiers, who were part of the search effort, were also taken to the hospital after suffering from exposure to cold.

In light of the paratrooper’s death, the military launched three separate investigations into the accident, the IDF official said.

The head of the Central Command, which contains the Paratroopers Brigade, ordered a team led by Col. Oren Simcha to look into the circumstances of the event.

The soldier’s commanders will also submit a report on the incident.

In addition, the Military Police’s investigatory department will investigate the drowning. This is standard protocol in cases of a death in the military and does not necessarily indicate a suspicion of criminal malfeasance.

The investigations will focus on the two soldiers’ decision to try to cross the stream, the unit’s preparations before the exercise and the army’s response to the accident, he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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