Misjudgment, not negligence, behind downing of F-16 – report

Misjudgment, not negligence, behind downing of F-16 – report

Pilot and navigator should have flown lower after missile they fired locked on target, internal probe expected to conclude

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)
In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

An error of judgment by the crew, rather than negligent behavior, is reportedly expected to be the focus of the findings of an investigation into the downing of an Israeli F-16 fighter jet by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile on February 10.

The pilot and navigator acted according to the wrong priorities when they continued to guide a missile they fired rather than fly lower as soon as the missile had locked on, an Israeli Air Force investigation team will tell the force’s chief, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, Wednesday afternoon, Channel 10 news reported last week.

After that, the main elements of the probe — the lessons of which have already been absorbed into air force training and operation  — will be presented to the public.

Air Force head Amiram Norkin, left, and an unidentified officer, right, visiting an injured pilot in Rambam Hospital in Haifa on February 11, 2018, in a picture released by the IDF on February 12, 2018. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The pilot, who was seriously wounded in the incident after ejecting from the plane as it crashed in a ball of flame into a northern Israeli hillside, walked out of Haifa’s Rambam Hospital in “good” condition Sunday and went home, doctors said.

He had arrived at the hospital unconscious and attached to a respirator, with serious shrapnel wounds in his abdomen. He had to have emergency surgery to stem internal bleeding.

His condition stabilized after the surgery, and he was moved out of intensive care within days.

The plane’s navigator, who also ejected, was lightly injured in the incident and returned to the skies on Monday,  joined in the cockpit by Norkin.

Head of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin, left, takes off with Maj. ‘Aleph,’ the navigator of an F-16 fighter jet shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, as the officer returns to fly for the first time since the crash, on February 19, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“From the moment you understood that you needed to abandon the plane, you made the right decision and saved the life of the major and of yourself,” Norkin told the pilot, according to an Israel Defense Forces statement issued Monday.

Neither the pilot nor the navigator has been identified, in keeping with IDF policy.

The jet crashed into a hillside near Kibbutz Harduf in northern Israel, only a few hundred meters from homes and buildings.

Nobody on the ground was hurt in the incident, which came amid a round of intense hostilities on February 10, sparked when an Iranian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace, triggering Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria.

The downing of the plane sparked a second round of Israeli strikes that the military said destroyed between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses.

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