Bodies of IAF Pilot and Navigator Found After F-16I Crash in Negev

Pilot Maj. Amichai Itkis and navigator Maj. Emanuel Levy took off from the Ramon Air Force base and crashed during training exercise.

Rescue teams recovered the bodies of Israel Air Force pilot Maj. Amichai Itkis and navigator Maj. Emanuel Levy late Thursday, at the crash site of an F-16I fighter jet in the Negev.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Rescue services had been searching for Itkis and Levy since their F-16I fighter crashed on Wednesday evening in a Negev canyon. They also recovered the aircraft's black box cockpit recorder, which may shed light on the cause of the crash.

The 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. on Wednesday.

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

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.

Itkis, from Sde Warburg, had an older brother who was killed during his military service in the Navy in 1998.

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.