Initial findings from the investigation into the crash of a Navy helicopter that killed two servicemen Monday night indicated that it was caused by a technical malfunction.
The third and only surviving crew member, whose name had been kept confidential, told friends that during the flight the left engine caught fire, necessitating an emergency landing in the sea near Haifa, according to Channel 12.
Following emergency protocols, the officer opened the helicopter’s side doors, and when it approached the water he jumped out, and then tried to rescue his comrades but was unable to do so.
“I was able to get myself out of the sinking helicopter and then, after many attempts to get my friends out, I was rescued by a naval police patrol,” said the officer on Tuesday from his hospital be. He was identified on Tuesday as Capt. Ron Berman.
Navy chief David Saar Salame said he “did everything he could and everything possible” to help the pilots.
At this stage, investigators believe that the two pilots were not killed by the crash, but by smoke inhalation and drowning as the wrecked aircraft filled with water.
The network did not cite sources for this, and stressed that the investigation is ongoing.
The two fatalities were identified as 38-year-old Lt.-Col. Erez Sachaini, who was married with three children and served as deputy commander of Ramat David airbase, and 27-year-old Major Hen Fogel. Fogel was buried in the Military Cemetery in Haifa on Tuesday afternoon and Sachaini in the Misgav cemetery later in the day.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog sent their condolences and promised a full investigation, and wished the survivor a speedy recovery.
Rambam Hospital in Haifa said that the officer who survived the crash was being treated in intensive care for a fractured spine and hypothermia. A doctor in the trauma unit told Ynet that “his neurological condition was satisfactory, and we expect to release him from the intensive care unit later in the day to complete his treatment in a regular ward.”
Military rescue personnel worked throughout the night and into the day to recover all the pieces of the helicopter, for purposes of determining the cause of the accident.
Israel Air Force chief of operations Brig.-Gen. Amir Lazar told reporters that the helicopter went down without sending an emergency distress call.
“No call was heard on the radio before the accident. It disappeared from the monitoring screen and then there was a report of a helicopter that hit the water and we activated rescue forces,” he said.
One of the objects of the investigation will be to discover why the helicopter’s floating mechanism did not deploy in the crash, as it was expected to do.