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The pilot of an ultralight airplane was seriously injured on Friday when his aircraft crashed into a residential neighborhood of Nes Tziona.

The pilot, Moshe Rosenstein, had taken off from an airfield in Rishon Letzion around noon en route to the Tnuvot landing strip in the south when, according to a preliminary investigation, the plane's engine began to malfunction three or four minutes into the flight. Rosenstein, who is in his 60s and has many hours of flying experience, apparently decided to return to Rishon Letzion.

When he turned back, the plane's engine stalled and the aircraft lost altitude, ultimately crashing into a tree in the yard of a home. The tree apparently softened the impact of the plane, preventing a more tragic outcome. A passenger on board with Rosenstein suffered light injuries. Haaretz has learned that Rosenstein's life is out of danger following five hours of surgery.

A man in whose yard the plane came down told Haaretz: "I was sure there was a car accident on the road outside the house. I looked through the window and saw a plane in the yard. I immediately ran outside and saw the two people in the plane."

He said that, together with employees of a nearby pizzeria who had rushed to the scene, he freed Rosenstein and his passenger from the wreckage of the plane.

Civil Aviation Authority regulations prohibit pilots of ultralight aircraft from flying over populated areas. Aviation sources believe that when Rosenstein began to experience technical problems, he flew over Nes Tziona because it was the shortest flight path back to the Rishon Letzion airfield, rather than making an emergency landing in a open area.

The wreckage of Rosenstein's plane was removed from the accident site by Transportation Ministry representatives for further investigation. The plane was a relatively old and lightweight single-engine aircraft.

As disclosed last week in Haaretz, the Civil Aviation Authority recently issued a directive which effectively grounded all ultralight aircraft in Israel weighing over 454 kilograms following a crash in Rishon Letzion last December of an ultralight airplane that ran out of fuel. In that incident, two passengers were very lightly injured and the plane sustained heavy damage. Rosenstein's plane had not exceeded these weight limitations.

In February, all the estimated 170 ultralight planes operating in Israel were grounded for a week due to safety concerns, in a voluntary measure instituted by the Israeli Light Sport Aviation Association. During that week, seminars were organized for reviewing flight safety procedures following serious concerns over ultralight flight safety.

The voluntary grounding followed the release of a scathing report by the chief accident investigator of the Ministry of Transportation, Yitzhak Raz, who noted safety deficiencies on the part of aircraft owners as well as at the Civil Aviation Authority. The report made specific reference to December's ultralight plane crash in Rishon Letzion.

The pilot of an ultralight aircraft recently died of injuries sustained in another crash in January near Kibbutz Reshafim in the Jordan Valley.