IAF Pilot and Navigator Feared Dead After F-16I Crashes in Negev

F-16I fighter crashed in a Negev canyon near Mitzpeh Ramon; rescue services search for missing IAF men.

Rescue services are searching for an Israel Air Force pilot and a navigator after their F-16I fighter crashed on Wednesday evening in a Negev canyon.

Their F-16I Sufa (storm) took off from the Ramon Air Force base and crashed somewhere in the area of Mitzpeh Ramon at around 8 P.M. Wednesday. It was still not clear whether the two had managed to eject themselves.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

On Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces released the names of the missing servicemen: pilot Maj. Amichai Itkis, 28, from Sde Warburg; and navigator Maj. Emanuel Levy, 30, from Ma'aleh Adumim. Their families have been notified.

The fighter jet that crashed was leading a four aircraft training exercise when it suddenly fell to the ground, failing to report any problems before the disaster occurred.

The IAF has opened an investigation into the incident and has canceled all training exercises using the F-16I jets for the time being.

Eli Hershkowitz

Air force search crews, aided by the IDF rabbinate have been combing the site in Makhtesh Ramon since the early hours of the morning.

A meter-deep crater was torn into the crash site, a few kilometers south of the Ramon stream, near the Afifon stream, with debris strewn up tp hundreds of meters from the point of impact

The two parachutes were also found a few dozen meters from the wreckage, although it seemed unlikely the missing crew members managed to use them in order to escape the crash

The F-16 is the main fighter jet used by the IAF. The Israel Defense Forces acquired 102 of the two-seater F-16Is - a more advanced model – from Lockheed Martin between 2004 and 2008. Only a handful of safety incidents involving those jets have occurred over the course of those years.

In 2009, an F-16I was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after take off from the Ramon base due to a technical glitch. During the Second Lebanon War, two crew members on an F-16I were forced to eject on the tarmac during take-off.

The last fatal crash involving an IAF jet on Israeli soil was in September 2009, when Captain Asaf Ramon - son of late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon – was killed while flying an F16-A in south Mount Hebron.

The year before that, two pilots were killed during routine training on a Cobra attack helicopter in the Jezre'el Valley.

In July of this year, an IAF CH-53 helicopter crashed during an exercise in Romania, killing six Israeli servicemen and a Romanian liaison officer.