2 IAF Pilots Killed in Jezreel Valley Crash

Cobra helicopter makes emergency landing; Paramedic says helicopter caught fire, exploded after crash.

Two Israel Air Force pilots were killed on Wednesday after their Cobra helicopter crashed in the Jezreel Valley, during a routine training exercise near Kibbutz Ginegar.

The families of the pilots were notified.

During the training session, the helicopter took part in a flight formation. Approximately ten minutes after taking off from the Ramat David Air Force base, the formation leader noticed that the second helicopter had crashed.

Maj. Gen. Ido Nechushtan, Commander of the Israel Air Force, has decided to ground the Cobra helicopters until further notice, and has appointed an official commission of inquiry to investigate the incident.

Amos Segev, commander of Jezreel emergency services, told Haaretz the helicopter burst into flames when it hit the ground and exploded. Segev also said that rescue personnel summoned to the scene have had difficulty reaching the wreckage due to the size of the fire.

Channel 10 TV said two Cobra attack helicopters were flying in formation when one helicopter lost its rotor and crashed. It was not clear if the two aircraft touched.

Police have closed off the area, out of fear that bystanders could be hurt by ammunition on the helicopter.

The Cobra helicopter carries two crewmen, a pilot and a gunner, and cannot carry any passengers.

The last crash involving Cobra attack helicopters was in July 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, when two choppers collided near the border with Lebanon, leaving an IAF officer dead.

In Israel's worst military air disaster, two Sikorsky helicopters ferrying soldiers into Lebanon collided above northern Israel in February 1997, killing all 73 soldiers and crew on the two craft.

"I saw the tail of the second Cobra fall"

Several Kibbutz Ginegar residents witnessed the Cobra helicopter crash in the Jezreel Valley on Wednesday.

"I saw two helicopters flying one after the other. I always watch the helicopters that fly over the valley," said Guy Dauber, a student in the 12th grade, who was sitting outside his home during the time the helicopter went down.

"I followed them and then saw the tail of the second Cobra fall," said Dauber. "The Helicopter crashed and there was a massive explosion. I ran to the field and was one of the first people to arrive at the scene."

Hovav Sella, another eyewitness, said he called police to notify them of the crash. Sella added that there were multiple explosions after the helicopter went down and that he tried to prevent people from approaching the helicopter to avoid injury.

Assaf Raanan was driving down one of the kibbutz roads when he saw a large fire burning in one of the fields. "It really was like a giant mushroom, and I first I thought maybe they were filming a movie here," said Raanan.