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IAF official: Chopper flotation system worked, ‘don’t know why’ pilots didn’t escape

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

The helicopter that crashed last night appears to have sustained a malfunction in its left motor, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing, a senior Israeli Air Force officer says.

According to Brig. Gen. Amir Lazar, the head of the IAF’s Air Division, the motor malfunction apparently caused a power outage on the helicopter, which is why the pilots were not able to report the crash to the control tower.

This assessment is based on an initial investigation into the crash, based on fragments of the helicopter that have so far been recovered and were sent to the Tel Nof Air Base for examination.

Illustrative: An Israeli Air Force Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopter lands on board the USS Laboon, on May 13, 2015. (US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Desmond Parks/Released)

One of the most significant questions facing investigators is why the pilots were unable to escape the aircraft when a naval officer on board managed to do so.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS565 Panther, is specially designed for naval operations and is able to make emergency landings directly on the water with a built-in flotation device. According to Lazar, this flotation system was activated by the pilots as they made the emergency landing and it deployed correctly, which allowed the naval officer to escape. “We don’t know why the pilots’ didn’t,” he says.

The helicopter eventually sank and the pilots were found by rescuers inside the cockpit of the aircraft with their seatbelts still fastened, he says.

According to the investigation, the naval officer who escaped tried to go back to get the pilots, but was unable to. While floating at sea, the officer took out his personal cellphone and called the head of the squadron to tell him what had happened. “The squadron commander told him to stay calm and take care of himself,” Lazar says.

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