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IDF’s Apache fleet to return to service following fatal crash

Ahead of full report on incident last month, army says helicopter training accident due to rare malfunction of steering system

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

Illustrative photo of an Israeli Air Force Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter, June 8, 2012. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli Air Force Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter, June 8, 2012. (Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

The IDF’s fleet of Apache attack helicopters will begin returning to service next week, after it was grounded following a fatal crash earlier this summer in which one pilot was killed and a second seriously wounded, the army announced Monday.

The process of bringing the fleet back up to its full operational capabilities will take at least several weeks as the aircrafts’ systems and the protocols for maintaining them are reviewed, according to Col. Yoav, who is responsible for Israeli Air Force maintenance. (For security reasons, his last name cannot be published.)

The announcement was made after a new interim report on the cause of the August 7 crash that killed Maj. (res) David “Dudi” Zohar and severely injured his copilot, a lieutenant on active duty.

A full report on the incident is forthcoming, but so far the military has been able to confirm that the crash was caused by a steering problem. Col. Yoav said that the stick used to control the rear rotor came dislodged during the flight, after an extended period of it weakening.

The malfunction was unique, never having occurred anywhere else in the world before, he said.

There was a somewhat similar case in 2007 involving a US military helicopter in Afghanistan. However, it occurred under different circumstances and was in a different version of the Apache, the officer said.

According to Col. Yoav, although the investigation is still ongoing, the army knows that the pilots “dealt with a very difficult situation.”

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)

Zohar and the lieutenant, who cannot be named for security reasons, were involved in bringing the fleet of Apache helicopters back to full service after it was grounded in June for a separate, unrelated problem.

The entire flight — from takeoff from the Ramon Air Base to crash landing on the base’s tarmac — took approximately 45 minutes. The crash occurred at 9 p.m.

According to the army, the malfunction took place after 39 minutes. Once discovered, the pilots made their way back to the base; emergency landing was not possible in the field as protocol required the presence of emergency response vehicles.

Col. Yoav credited their return to the base with “saving the lieutenant’s life.”

In the aftermath of the Apache crash, one of the first questions raised was whether it was caused by the same rotor problem that had grounded the army’s fleet of Apaches earlier in the summer.

After the June grounding of the Apache fleet, the helicopters were inspected for damage, yet the issue that would cause the steering malfunction in August was not discovered.

As part of the investigation the military is looking to see why the malfunction wasn’t found — for instance, if protocols did not require the inspection of the parts involved — and how such a problem could be found in the future.

“We are looking at every aspect: how it happened; how they didn’t find it sooner; how to find it in the future,” Col. Yoav said.

Last month, Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin called for the investigating commission to share its findings with the United States military and Boeing, which manufactures the Apache.

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