Victims of air force plane crash named: Maj. Itay Zayden, Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa

Military investigating what caused fatal accident, the first of its kind since 2008, which claimed the life of 42-year-old reserve officer and 19-year-old cadet

The victims of the IAF plane crash on November 24, 2020 -- Maj. Itai Zayden (R) and Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa (L). (Facebook)
The victims of the IAF plane crash on November 24, 2020 -- Maj. Itai Zayden (R) and Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa (L). (Facebook)

The victims of the light plane crash in the south on Tuesday were identified as a major in the Israel Air Force reserves and a 19-year-old flight school cadet, as the Israel Defense Forces said an investigation into the accident during a routine air force training flight was ongoing.

The trainer was named as Maj. (res.) Itay Zayden, a 42-year-old from Kibbutz Shoval. The cadet was named as Corporal Lihu Ben-Bassa, 19, from Rishon Lezion.

Zayden was a reserve officer who previously served in an F-16 squadron and Ben-Bassa was in his fourth month of a pilot-training course, according to the army.

Zayden is survived by his wife and four children, while Ben-Bassa is survived by his parents and twin brother, who is also in the army, according to the Ynet news site.

The funeral arrangements for the two were not immediately announced.

“My world is destroyed,” wrote Shlomo Ben-Bassa, the father of the dead trainee pilot, on Facebook.

“I express deep sorrow over the loss Air Force reserve officer Major Itay Zayden and flight school cadet pilot Corporal Lihu Ben-Bassa, who perished in the plane crash today,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement on Tuesday night. “On behalf of all citizens of Israel, I send condolences to their families in their hour of grief.”

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the military was investigating what caused the two-seat Snunit training plane to crash on Tuesday morning near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev after it set out on a routine flight from Hatzerim Air Base.

The site of a plane crash in which two Israeli soldiers were killed near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev in southern Israel, on November 24, 2020. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

“It is not clear if it was caused by a technical malfunction or human error,” he said of the accident in a briefing with reporters. “To the best of our understanding, there was no discussion between the plane and the tower and the weather conditions were good.”

Zilberman said the lack of communication between the plane and control tower was hindering the investigation, as it was unclear when the problems aboard the aircraft started.

The site of the plane crash near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev in southern Israel on November 24, 2020. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

He also said that Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin halted all training flights until further notice and would appoint a colonel to lead an investigation into the crash.

Zilberman said the military would speak about the crash with all cadets in the pilots course.

It was the first such fatal incident since 2008, when a trainer and cadet were killed aboard a different type of training plane.

“Our hearts are with the families of the IAF reserve pilot and flight school cadet who were killed today in a training flight crash. The loss of such young life is heart-breaking,” President Reuven Rivlin wrote on Twitter.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also issued a statement offering his condolences to the family.

“This is a serious accident that exacted a heavy price from us,” said Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff. “The IDF will do everything to probe the incident and draw the necessary conclusions.”

Following Tuesday’s crash, firefighters, paramedics and an Air Force helicopter arrived at the scene, where charred parts of the plane were scattered.

A medic said forces arrived when the plane was still on fire and were witness to the “difficult scene” of the two unconscious men after extinguishing the blaze.

They were initially listed as in critical condition, but medics subsequently pronounced their death.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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