The Israel Defense Forces on Friday said it was unable to determine what caused a soldier to enter an unsafe area of a tank during a military exercise in August, leading to his death, as it wrapped up an investigation into the fatal incident.
On August 30, 19-year-old Sgt. 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.
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.
The final report largely confirmed interim findings published by the army a day after the incident.
The IDF on Friday said “the direct cause of death” was Fichman entering the unsafe area. However, it added that “it is not possible to determine with certainty what caused this.”
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.” 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.
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.
A team of experts headed by Col. Shaul Israeli, the commander of the 205th Brigade, “analyzed the various possibilities… and based on each of them formulated conclusions, lessons, and recommendations to reduce the risk and chance of similar incidents in the future,” the IDF said Friday.
The experts also examined other “systemic” aspects in several tank units and found “lapses and issues that are required to be corrected, to reduce similar risks.”
The chief of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin expressed sorrow over the incident but lamented flawed “cultural” and professional norms within the tank unit and “gaps at the systemic level” that the experts found.
Fichman’s family was updated on the findings, the military said.
A Military Police probe was also opened that would submit its findings to the Military General Advocate Corps for evaluation.
The IDF said possible disciplinary measures would be decided upon following the Military Police investigation.
The military briefly halted training exercises following the deadly incident.