The Israel Defense Force launched an investigation into how a tank crew apparently fell asleep and somehow set their tank in motion, reportedly allowing it to reverse across a busy highway in southern Israel before coming to a halt.
Nobody was injured in the incident Sunday night during a tank commander’s course at the Shizafon base, about 75 kilometers (46 miles) north of the resort city of Eilat.
The army described the incident as a “severe safety violation,” and said it was being investigated.
The mishap took place during a week of field exercises when a tank commander left the tank and ordered his crew to wait with the parking brake on. He returned 20 minutes later to discover the tank wasn’t where he left it, the Ynet news website reported.
A quick search found the 65-ton Merkava tank some 600 meters from where it should have been, apparently having reversed through open desert and across a section of Route 40, the main north-south traffic artery that connects Eilat to the rest of the country.
The crew is suspected of falling asleep in the tank and somehow releasing the brake, which allowed the massive machine to move without the soldiers realizing it.
Israel Radio reported that the tank almost ran over some soldiers and it was a “miracle” that nobody was hurt.
Snafus in which tank crews fall asleep during training exercise have happened in the past, a tank corps veteran told The Times of Israel.
An IDF statement said there was no damage or casualties and an investigation would be held “to learn the lessons in order to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents in the future.”
The army has come under fire in recent months for safety issues during training exercises, including an incident last week in which a soldier on a navigational mission drowned while trying to cross a rain-swollen stream.