IAF Chief Grounds Fleet after Helicopter Crash Kills Two

Amikam Norkin, the chief of the Israeli Air Force, decided to ground its fleet of AS565 Panther helicopters after two crew members were killed and another injured when one of the aircrafts crashed on Monday night into the Mediterranean. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that all training flights were also halted by Norkin and an investigative commission was formed, led by a colonel, for looking into the cause of the helicopter crash. As per the IDF, the fleet will remain grounded till further notice. The IDF said that the two fatalities were Maj. Chen Fogel and Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and their families have been notified. 

Early Tuesday morning, Brig. Gen. Amir Lazar of the IAF said that the military was working on recovering the aircraft’s fragments to launch a thorough investigation. The military said that in order to assist with the search in finding all the pieces of the helicopter, a rare order had been issued by Maj. Gen Ori Gordin. The head of the IDF Home Front Command declared the section of the Haifa coast where the crash occurred to be a closed military zone, which means that civilians are barred from the area. Lazar said that they couldn’t make any guesses about what happened. He added that even though the aircraft were old, but they were quite durable.

Known as ‘Atalef’, or bat, the AS565 helicopter is a 25-year old military aircraft, which is primarily utilized for missions at sea. These aircrafts are scheduled for replacement within the next two years with the IAF currently using a version of the Blackhawk helicopter known as Seahawk helicopter, which is naval-focused. The military disclosed that the helicopter had been participating in a training exercise when it crashed. It remained in the air for about an hour before going down. These helicopters had been acquired by the air force back in 1996 from Eurocopter, the French company that has now been folded into Airbus, the European aerospace giant.

The fact that the aircraft is capable of landing on the Israeli naval ships has made them suitable for use at sea, especially where the Sa’ar-5 class ones. They had bought the new Seahawk helicopters for complementing the more advanced, four Sa’ar-6 class ships that will be delivered in the coming years to the Israeli Navy. As for the AS565 Panther, it is currently utilized for finding maritime targets at sea, reconnaissance of enemy coasts and search and rescue missions. Advanced observation and radar technology can be integrated into the aircraft for reconnaissance purposes and can locate targets that are hundreds of kilometers away, thereby acting as the ‘eyes’ of missile ships.

There is usually a pilot, co-pilot as well as a naval officer on the helicopter. The helicopters had been acquired by the IAF for replacing their previous maritime helicopters named MH-65 Dolphines, which were also manufactured by Eurocopter. The IAF has used the Atalef aircraft in operations against enemy forces in Lebanon and Gaza, including in the Lebanon war in 2006 and capturing of Hezbollah vessels. 

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