Report: Helicopter Crash Unrelated to Earlier Fleet Grounding

An Israeli Apache helicopter at an aerial show at a graduation ceremony for soldiers who completed the IAF Flight Course, at the Hatzerim Air Base in the Negev desert, December 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

YERUSHALAYIM - An initial investigation of the deadly crash of an IDF Apache helicopter on Monday night indicates that a faulty steering mechanism was likely the cause, unrelated to the cracks in rotary blades which grounded the fleet earlier this year.

The malfunction affected the steering system of the craft’s rear rotor during training exercises near the Ramon Air Base in southern Israel, according to an IDF official quoted in the Israeli media on Tuesday. She said that the technical problem, not human error, appeared to be the cause of the crash, but cautioned that this was only a preliminary finding, and that a full investigation headed by an air force colonel would take months to conclude.

In an official statement on Tuesday, the IDF said it did not find evidence for “a connection between the malfunction that took place [Monday] and the cause for the grounding of the fleet a month and a half ago.”

In June, a crack was found in the rear rotor blade of a Boeing Apache helicopter, an AH-model 64D Saraph (“fiery winged serpent”). In response, IAF chief Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel grounded the military’s two squadrons of attack helicopters while an investigation was conducted.

The inspections in June revealed a second crack in the original helicopter, due to heavy use of the aircraft, which had clocked over 2,000 flight hours when the cracks had begun forming. The craft were subsequently allowed back into service, but with a new operational restriction requiring more frequent replacement of blades and regular X-ray checks to identify cracks and other flaws.

The levayah for David Zohar, z”l, the IDF pilot who was killed in the accident, was set for Tuesday evening in his hometown of Haifa.

The co-pilot, who was evacuated to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center in critical condition, was reported still in serious condition in the intensive care unit on Tuesday after overnight surgery.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declared on Twitter that he intends to take action against whomever circulated the false rumor on Whatsapp that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot had died in the helicopter crash.

Liberman characterized the rumor as “dangerous and inhumane,” and said that he would “utilize the full force of the law against whomever started the rumors.”

The IDF spokesperson also issued a statement “that any rumors regarding the death or injury of additional commanders in the incident are not accurate.”