(Israel Defense Forces)
helicopter pilots

IDF is treating the crash as an accident; third pilot conscious and in fair-to-moderate condition.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Two Israel Air Force pilots were killed and a third was injured when their helicopter crashed into the Mediterranean just off the coast of Haifa on Monday night during a training exercise. The pilots were identified as Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel.

The 38-year-old Sachyani was deputy commander of the Ramat David air base near Haifa. He leaves behind a wife and three children. Fogel, 27, was posthumously promoted from Captain to Major.

The third pilot, whose name was not released, is in fair-to-moderate condition at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus. Hebrew reports said the pilot is conscious and being treated for hypothermia and a fractured spine.

The IDF is treating the crash as an accident. IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav told FM 103, “We are investigating every possibility, but l don’t think this was a terrorist attack, and that is the direction that will be found to be correct. There were a lot of reports yesterday, a lot of reports, many of them incorrect and premature.”

Kochav added that a cyber attack has not been ruled out, though this is also viewed as unlikely.

The AS565 Panther helicopter is a 25-year-old aircraft used for a variety of maritime missions such as reconnaissance, search and rescue operations and anti-submarine warfare. The IAF refers to the helicopter as the “Atalef,” or bat.

IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin grounded the fleet of Atalefs and all training flights until further notice and launched a probe to determine the cause of the crash. According to Hebrew media reports, the Atalefs are due to be replaced in the next two years and the assumption is that the crash was most likely the result of a technical malfunction or human error.

In a statement of condolence, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the pilots “among the best of our sons.”

“The people of Israel will not forget their contribution, night and day, for the security of the state,” Bennett tweeted.

President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other officials also expressed condolences.