Weeks Before Fatal Israel Air Force Crash, Training Chief Was Dismissed

The army’s announcement of the crash in which a flight instructor and trainee were killed, made no mention of safety problems in the squadron

Yaniv Kubovich
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The scene of a plane crash near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev, November 24, 2020.
The scene of a plane crash near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev, November 24, 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Yaniv Kubovich

The commander of the initial flight training program in which an instructor and a cadet died last week when their plane crashed was dismissed about a month ago.

Maj. Itay Zayden (res.), the instructor, and Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa. a cadet, died when their Grob G- 20 trainer aircraft crashed in southern Israel.

A source who requested anonymity said the Israel Air Force dismissed the lieutenant colonel over what the source described as a series of command and safety infractions and because the atmosphere at the base was deemed “unserious.”

The IAF statement following the crash made no mention of the commander’s recent dismissal.

Zayden, who had commanded the initial training program from 2013-16, returned to that position after the dismissal of the unnamed former commander, to bring the squadron up to the required professional standards.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that Zayden had been brought in on reserve duty to command the squadron, in addition to serving as a flight instructor.

In a statement, the IAF said: “In recent weeks the commander of the initial training squadron ended his role for command reasons,” and that Zayden “replaced him as squadron commander until a new squadron commander reported.” A new, permanent commander had been appointed before the crash, the statement also said.

The anonymous source said that safety problems occur from time to time in any squadron and the IAF was not tying the atmosphere in the program to the crash at this time. A team appointed by Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin is looking into any possible connection.

Initial flight training is among the early stages of flight school, which lasts for about six months.

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