Israeli Airmen in Romania Crash Were the Pride of Their Families and Hometowns

Six Israeli servicemen and a Romanian Air Force officer were on board the Yasur helicopter when it crashed during joint drill in Carpathian Mountains.

At the Goldman home in Modi'in, relatives were trying to come to terms with the news that the father of the family was on board the Israel Air Force helicopter that crashed in Romania on Monday, carrying six Israelis and a Romanian officer.

"It is impossible to explain," said Orit Goldman, wife of 48-year-old Lieutenant Colonel (Res.) Avner Goldman. "It's been 25 years of worry, but you can never understand it. This is unbearable pain. I feel like I am waiting to wake up from a dream."

Goldman is the father of four: a daughter aged 13 and three boys between the ages of 16 and 22. Orit said that she and her youngest son had returned from a trip to Tel Aviv to find an IAF officer waiting for them, and that her eldest son and daughter had already heard the bad news. Then they informed their third son, who was travelling in Rhodes.

She said her children had a fantastic father. "The children are bonded to him and adore him. I do too." She called Avner "an amazing person in every way."

Goldman was on board the Yasur helicopter with Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Shipenbauer, 43, from Kidron; Major Yahel Keshet, 33, from Hatzerim; Sergeant 1st Class Oren Cohen, 24, from Rehovot, and Major Lior Shai, 28, and Lieutenant Nir Lakrif, 25, both from Tel- Nof.

Relatives waiting at home spoke of the "pride" they felt for these servicemen, all of them experienced members of the Israel Air Force.

Nir Lakrif's uncle described him as "the pride of the family." Lakrif, a flight mechanic who grew up in Kiryat Ata, studied at the Israel Air Force technical school. He married last August, and his wife in her fourth month of pregnancy. The couple had recently moved closer to Tel Nof.

"It's impossible to describe what a good boy Nir is," said his aunt, Edna Lakrif. It was tragic, she said, that the crash had happened on Monday, his grandfather's birthday. "No one would wish this one anyone," she said. "We won't relax until we hear that everything is okay." 

A friend of Yahel Keshet called him "the pride" of his hometown, Moshav Sharona in the Galilee.

Keshet's aunt told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that his family feared he had been killed. "We didn’t sleep all night. We are trying to be strong," she said.

She described Yahel, whose wife recently gave birth to a daughter, as having all of the good qualities that any person could possess.

Colonel Hagi Topolansky, speaking on bnehalf of the IAF, said the men were "six of our best."

"It is difficult for us to face the families," he said, adding that the IAF was doing its best to "embrace" them.

Daniel Shipenbauer's brother in law: More than anything, Danny loved to fly

Family and friends arrived this morning at the home of Daniel Shipenbauer in Moshav Kidron. Shipenbauer, married to Yael and father of three - Amit, 16, Roi, 13, and Yonatan, 8 - moved to the Moshav with his family just last Thursday.

Daniel was born in Uruguay and made aliyah when he was 6. He grew up in Bat Yam and played soccer in his youth for Hapoel Tel Aviv. After his military service, he quit playing but remained a fervent soccer fan, driving his children to the matches on weekends.

He enrolled in the army aviation course and worked his way up the ranks of his unit until he became commander during the second Lebanon war. Shipenbauer oversaw some of the most complex operations in the war including the rescue of many wounded soldiers. The most significant episode during his service in the IAF was the crash of a helicopter under his command during the second Lebanon war.

"I personally remember his words for the soldiers he lost", said Shipenbauer's brother-in-law, Yaron Ozer. "That episode hit him really hard."

Shipenbauer was about to receive a position he really wanted. "He was a wonderful person, an experienced pilot, a real professional, a really down-to-earth guy, very humble, a solid guy, despite his tough exterior, he was a very sensitive person. In the last 20 years, he trained most of the pilots in the IAF," Ozer said, adding that of all of his hobbies, "Danny most loved to fly."

Ozer said that it was not the first time that his brother-in-law flew to far-off destinations. "Professionally, he really wanted to fly this time, he thought it was a really interesting mission," he added. On Monday night, Israel Air Force personnel who knew Danny arrived at the house and informed the family that the helicopter had disappeared.

IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Perez, who knows the family personally, also came to the house and said that, "he was one of our best, one of the greatest heroes the State of Israel has ever known."

Yahel Keshet's parents: We have no criticism, we're not judging anyone

Major Yahel Keshet, 33, was born in Moshav Sharona in the Galilee. "He is the pride of the Moshav. Discrete, intelligent, witty. We saw him flying over the Moshav and were full of pride" said a fellow Moshav Sharona resident.

Yahel was living with his family at the Air Force base of Hazrin. Married to Hofit and father of Harel, 2, and two-month-old Ofri. He was survived by older sister Shimrit and younger brother Uriah.

Shulamit Berger, Keshet's aunt, told Army Radio this morning that the family feared that Yahel was dead. "I learned the news only several hours ago," she said. "We didn't sleep all night, we are trying to support each other. It looks like they think that they have lost Yahel."

She said that Yahel was a very talented pilot. "It may sound banal but he was a talented person, intelligent, honest, with values, all the good things that can be said of a person. The Air Force was important to him, but his family wasn't any less important, his children, he just had a baby, he was a very balanced person."

His parents, Miri and Dov Keshet of Moshav Sharona, said that Yahel completed his studies in the Kadoori agricultural school and was an excellent student who wanted to contribute to the community. He even received a commendation from former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - the Nehemia Tamari Prize for volunteer work and contribution to society and the community. They also said that their son helped Ethiopian immigrants who lived in caravans and was a counselor in the Noar Ha'Oved ve HaLomed youth movement.

His father Dov said that "Yahel was a great child to raise. A good child, who cared about his family, was serious, realistic, reasonable, and loved life."

Yahel wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a captain in the Navy, but due to health limitations he enrolled in the Air Force. "We didn't get much information from him, and we didn't ask," Yahel's parents said. "He was a meticulous and practical person, who paid attention to the smallest details. Safety and caution were a part of his personality."

Yahel loved diving, snowboarding and playing the guitar, his parents said. He loved to travel and "he hiked throughout Israel's south with his eldest son."

His parents said that Yahel would tell them every time his training exercises took place near their home. "Every helicopter sound that we heard, we would go outside and look up to the sky," Yahel's father said.

Both parents voiced total confidence in the system and said they did not judge anyone. "We know the kind of system Yahel was operating in, and the kind of values he had gained," they said. "The [Air Force] is an organized family. It is a corps that checks itself."