Israeli Navy soldiers (illustrative). (Edi Israel/FLASH90) Edi Israel/FLASH90
Israeli Navy soldiers

An IDF visual intelligence unit normally tasked with tracking Palestinian terrorists, Iranian nuclear activities and weapons shipments helped locate the Chilean plane that crashed near Antarctica.

By United with Israel Staff

An expert team from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) visual intelligence unit helped locate the remains of a Chilean military plane that crashed December 9.

To find the plane, IDF soldiers skillfully interpreted aerial images of the Pacific Ocean. Some body parts were also found through their expertise.

The C-130 plane, with 38 passengers, vanished in Drake Passage en route to a base in Antarctica for regular maintenance. Radio contact with the plane was lost 70 minutes after take-off.

Chilean authorities asked Israel for help in finding the wreckage within a day of its disappearance, reported Ynet news. The two countries maintain close military cooperation.

“As we heard about the incident, we immediately wanted to help as fast as we could and to contribute to the team that was formed,” the head IDF officer of the mission, whose name was withheld, said, according to the report.

The IDF intelligence unit, consisting of young experts from the army’s visual intelligence unit, was called in to analyze satellite images. The unit is usually tasked with tracking suspected Palestinian terrorists, Iranian nuclear activities and weapons shipments.

“It sounded like looking for a needle in a haystack, but the key is to operate with orderly visual intelligence logic,” the IDF spokeswoman said. “Our interpretation experts went over the images again and again, looking for anomalies at sea, such as differences in the water color and other things, using technologies developed over the past year.”

Experts Who Think Outside the Box

The soldiers, trained in aerial photographic and satellite image interpretation, geology and technology, received satellite images from Chile taken by a European Union satellite.

“We took experts from several departments, who brought creative ideas,” the officer said. “These are people who deal every day with interpreting aerial photos.”

Their expertise narrowed the huge area in the South Pacific Ocean where the crash potentially occurred.

“Eventually we found small differences that indicated strong anomalies,” the IDF spokeswoman continued. “We filled out a report that greatly reduced the search area and sent it to the Chilean military.”

Israel’s Defense Ministry also requested the Israeli imaging firm ImageSat International to scan the area using an Israeli commercial satellite. The findings were sent to the Chilean government and military, reported Times of Israel.

The team’s efforts enabled retrieval of some plane parts as well as human remains. “Remains of human beings that are most likely the passengers have been found among several pieces of the plane,” Chilean Air Force Gen. Arturo Merino said at a news conference. “I feel immense pain for this loss of lives.”

Chilean officials reported recovery of a landing wheel, sponge-like material from the fuel tanks and part of the plane’s inside wall. A backpack and shoe were also found.

In addition to Israel’s crucial help in locating the crash site, Argentina, Brazil, the U.K., the U.S. and Uruguay sent 23 planes and dozens of ships. Israel, Peru and the U.S. also supplied satellite data.

It is unclear what caused the crash.

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