IAF Helicopter Almost Collides With Civilian Plane at Tel Aviv Airport

An investigation into the near-collision at Tel Aviv's Sde Dov airport shows neither the air traffic controller nor the helicopter pilot discerned the 'close shave' at the time of the incident.

A mid-air collision between a civilian plane and a military helicopter was narrowly avoided last weekend at Sde Dov Airport in Tel Aviv, according to an investigation of the incident.

This is the second flight safety issue Sde Dov Airport faced within one and a half months, and the fifth of its kind the Ben Gurion Airport and Negev areas confronted during that time.

IAF helicopter, military helicopter
Moti Kimche

The report, which was signed by Assistant Chief Investigator Ori Dayan, and is first exposed by Haaretz, said that on May 15 a Cessna 172 civilian plane took off from Sde Dov airport at 12:30, and turned south, as it was authorized to do. At the same time, a military helicopter heading north in a formation with another helicopter declared a state of emergency and requested to immediately land at Sde Dov Airport.

During his ascent and after turning to head south, the Cessna 172 pilot noticed the army helicopter. "While at a height of 500 feet, the Cessna's pilot noticed the helicopter descending straight towards him on a collision course, at a distance described by the pilot as very close, with a height difference of 150-200 feet between them," said the report.

The Cessna pilot ceased its ascent and turned west, to distance himself from the helicopter. The helicopter pilot, who did not notice the Cessna plane at all, also turned west to land. It was a "close shave." Following that, the plane returned to its southward course and the helicopter landed.

"Neither the air traffic controller nor the helicopter pilot discerned this dangerous crossing of paths, nor its gravity. The second helicopter did not notice it either," said the report.

"Despite the gravity of the occurrence, the Cessna pilot did not report the incident immediately following it. The air traffic control tower only found out about it approximately two hours later, when the Cessna pilot made a phone call to report it," said the report.

The report concluded that the severe incident was a personal failing of the air traffic controller and the helicopter pilot.

This is the second incident of its kind to occur at Sde Dov airport in the last one and a half months.

A mid-air collision between two propeller-driven aircraft, one civilian and the other military, was narrowly avoided in early April, near Sde Dov Airport. According to an investigation of the incident, the pilot of a civilian aircraft became confused about the end of the runway on which he planned to perform a "touch and go" maneuver, which caused the air traffic controller to become confused. A military aircraft was taking off on that runway, and a third aircraft, a small private jet, was trying to maneuver to land on the same runway. In the last minute, the air traffic controller identified the problem and avoided the collision by stopping the take-off of the military aircraft.