Rescuers Complete Final Identification of Helicopter Crew

IDF and Romanian Air Force hold memorial service evening on the tarmac at Carpathian Mountains base.

"It is a very difficult switch to do. One minute you are busy improving your flight skills and learning new capabilities, and the next you need to rescue your friends," said one of the pilots of Squadron 118 who participated in the training in Romania where an Israeli helicopter crashed Monday, killing six Israeli crew and a Romanian liaison officer.

"It is very difficult, but also something you do because of the recognition that it is enormously important for the families, and for us, to bring our friends back home," added the air force officer, who took part in the rescue operation of his colleague's bodies.

An IDF rescue team returns from Romania, July 29, 2010
An IDF rescue team returns from Romania, July 29, 2010Haaretz

"What was going through my head at that time was not the worst possible scenario," R. recounted the seconds during which communication was lost with CH-53 "Yassur" 046, which led the formation and entered a large, dense cloud. "I did not think about the possibility of an accident."

Only a few minutes later did one of the other helicopters manage to locate the fateful CH-53, where it had crashed into the mountainside.

Early this morning, the Israel Air Force Boeing transport was due to take off from the base at Boboc, Romania, on its way back to Israel, carrying six coffins of the pilots and crew: Lt. Colonel (res. ) Avner Goldman, Lt. Colonel Daniel Shipenbauer, Major Yahel Keshet, Major Lior Shai, and the two flight engineers, Lieutenant Nir Lakrif and Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen.

After it lands at the base of Squadron 118 at Tel Nof, the IDF is due to issue an announcement about the times of the funerals.

During the night between Wednesday and Thursday, and into yesterday morning, the Military Rabbinate crew and military pathologists carried out the grim task of identifying the bodies that were brought in by the air force rescue unit 669, after a complicated operation, under difficult weather conditions in the Carpathian Mountains.

One of the pilots who dropped the 669 crew in a narrow ravine, 1.5 kilometers from the location of the crash, described the mission yesterday as being "incredibly complex. Working in a foreign country, difficult field conditions, difficult terrain of the sort we are not familiar with in Israel, and changes in weather conditions all make it necessary to reevaluate the situation constantly. It was a mission that necessitated all my skills as a pilot."

By yesterday afternoon, the process of identifying the bodies was nearly complete, and the IDF's human resources department informed the families of the six men that their loved ones were officially pronounced dead. Several hours later a helicopter bearing the coffins of the six men took off from the hospital in the city of Brashov in the Carpathians, to the base at Boboc, where the Israeli delegation was based.

A joint IDF and Romanian Air Force memorial service was held yesterday evening on the tarmac at the base, with the head of the Israeli delegation, Brigadier General Yaakov Shaharabani and the Romanian base commander addressing those present.

A military rabbi recited El Male Rahamim, as the coffins, draped in the Israeli flag, were brought into the Boeing which had arrived yesterday afternoon. The five C-130 transport aircraft took off for Israel, with the 90 members of the Israeli mission, their equipment and that of the crews of the two helicopter squadrons who took part in the joint exercise, which began two weeks ago.

Some of the debris of the fateful helicopter was also loaded onto the aircraft, which will be used to conclude the investigation into the causes of the crash. Even though there is no official confirmation, and no pronounced conclusions, the air force investigators believe that the crash occurred as a result of a combination of human error and difficult weather conditions.