Nepal Avalanche Claims Life of Israel Air Force's First Female Religious Combat Navigator

Capt. Tamar Ariel, 25, was a very rare Israeli in volunteering for a flight course after two years of national civilian service.

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Tamar Ariel at the ending ceremony of the pilots training course, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Defense Minister Ehud Barak, 2012Credit: Ariel Hermony, Defense Ministry

Twenty-five-year-old Capt. Tamar Ariel, the first female religious navigator in the Israel Air Force, is one of the three Israelis to die in the avalanches caused by the Nepal blizzard this week, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Ariel hailed from the Masu’ot Yitzhak moshav, an agricultural community, in the south near Ashdod and Ashkelon. She had been trekking with a friend in the Annapurna section of the Himalayas, a route popular with backpackers in northern Nepal.

Ariel once told Channel 10 TV that she had never wanted to be a pilot or navigator when she was younger.

“I never thought about a pilot training course, but I did want to serve in the military,” she said. “I would have continued serving in the military even if I wasn’t in a pilot training course. I see it as a career, not a short-term experience.”

As a religious woman, Ariel wore the long-skirt version of the air force uniform. Friends and acquaintances describe her as a modest woman who did not seek to be a spokeswoman for the religious community.

She volunteered for an aircrew training course after two years of national civilian service, which some young Israelis, for example religious-Zionist women, do in lieu of military service. As such, her volunteering for the flight course was very unusual.

During her first solo flight she lost control of her plane and bailed out; she was lightly injured and her trainer jet was badly damaged. An inquiry showed that she had followed procedures properly.

Ariel was later transferred from combat training to a navigators’ course; upon completion, she was posted to a combat squadron and served as a navigator for two years. On Thursday, Tamar was posthumously promoted to captain.

The Foreign Ministry had confirmed that two other Israelis have died in the avalanches and one is missing. Another of the dead, 23-year-old Agam Luria, also has a link to the military. Luria, from Yifat in northern Israel, was in Nepal for a post-army trip. The third Israeli casualty is Nadav Shoham of the northern community of Mitzpe Hoshaya.