IDF suspends training after soldier dies in ‘rare’ tank accident in Golan Heights

Sgt. Eitan Fichman found unconscious in unsafe area of tank that crew is prohibited from entering while systems are on; declared dead by medics who came to take him for treatment

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

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

The military suspended training exercises after an Israeli soldier died under unclear circumstances during a tank exercise in northern Israel on Tuesday night.

According to the initial Israel Defense Forces probe of the incident, the soldier from the 82nd Armored Corps Battalion was found unconscious with a “severe head injury” inside a tank during the live fire drill in the Golan Heights.

He was later named as 19-year-old Eitan Fichman, from the southern city of Beersheba.

Fichman, a loader, 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.

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 fell into the unsafe area of the tank and was hurt.

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.

Medical teams reached the scene and the soldier was brought to an APC to take him for further medical treatment at a nearby base. But Fichman’s death was declared en route, according to the probe.

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

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.

Soldiers of the 7th Armored Corps Brigade during training in central Golan Heights, August 29, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, 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 which would submit its findings to the Military General Advocate Corps for evaluation.

Fichman was posthumously promoted to the rank of sergeant.

The head of the IDF’s Ground Forces ordered a halt to all training exercises involving armored vehicles, aside from shooting range practice, until the matter was investigated further.

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

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