plane crash in Modi’in - Gil Cohen-Magel - 18122011
The scene of Friday’s fatal plane crash in Modi’in. Photo by Gil Cohen-Magel
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Two people were killed on Friday when their small plane crashed near the pilot's home in Modi'in. Initial reports suggest human error may have been the cause of the accident that resulted in the deaths of the pilot, Col. (ret. ) Elhanan Shmueli, 55, a father of three, and his passenger, Shimshon Rozen, 60, of Moshav Timorim, near Kiryat Malakhi, a father of four. Mechanical failure has not been ruled out, however.

Attorney Yitzhak Raz, the Transportation Ministry's chief aviation accident investigator, has been tapped to carry out a full investigation of the crash. The engine and other parts of the Texan ultralight aircraft have been collected from the crash site and brought to a ministry investigation facility in Beit Dagan.

Results of pathology tests on the victims may also help shed light on the circumstances of the accident, for example in the event that Shmueli suffered a heart attack during the flight.

Eyewitnesses reported that the plane circled Shmueli's neighborhood a few times before it lost altitude and crashed on a street near his home. According to some accounts, the pilot evidently wanted to wave to his family and may have spoken to them on his cellphone shortly before the accident occurred. However, the possibility that the pilot attempted to make an emergency landing due to a technical malfunction has not been rejected.

An aviation expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz that the aircraft was flying on an unauthorized flight path and should not have been near an inhabited area, "much less above homes in the city." He said there was "no doubt" the pilot had broken the law.

Friday's incident was Israel's fourth aircraft fatality this year. It brought to nine the number of people killed in civil aviation accidents in 2011, compared to just three fatalities in 2010. It was the first fatal accident involving an ultralight, although this type of plane was involved in a number of aviation safety incidents this year.

A hang glider died on October 14 after crashing into a house in Kafr Daburiya, at the foot of Mount Tabor.

On April 14, four people died when their Piper Cherokee light aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from Haifa's airport. Pilot error in responding to engine malfunction was determined to be the main factor in the accident.

On March 3, two people were killed when their Cessna 182 crashed near the Rosh Pina airfield. Human error on the part of both pilots was cited by investigators as the cause of the crash. According to the accident report, in conducting preflight checks, the pilots failed to adequately assess the likelihood of ice accumulation on the aircraft during the flight. They attempted an emergency landing on rocky terrain that resulted in a fatal collision with the ground.

That accident came just two weeks after the circulation of a special report from the Transportation Ministry that warned of a significant increase in the number of aviation accidents and safety incidents in Israel involving engine malfunction and emergency landings.