Four Killed as Helicopter Crashes Near Netanya

Investigation focuses on technical failure, human error and will continue once craft is drawn from sea.

Four people were killed Tuesday when their civilian helicopter crashed into the waters off the coast of Netanya, rescue workers said.

Two of the casualties were named as Yoav Tamir, a co-owner of Tamir Airways, and Ran lapid, an El Al pilot who was flying the helicopter. The other two casualties are an Israeli man and a tourist from Cyprus.

It was not immediately clear what caused the aircraft to tumble 300 meters into the sea near Sironit Beach.

Police said the investigation will focus on a technical failure which is suspected to have caused the fatal accident and are considering the possibility that the propeller broke in mid flight.

They have not ruled out the option that human error caused the crash, despite the fact that the pilot, Ran Lapid, was an experienced helicopter pilot.

The investigation will continue on Wednesday morning after the crafts' remainders will be drawn from the sea near the Netanya shore where the helicopter crashed. They also plan to examine the Helicoper's mechanics in Hezlyia.

Magen David Adom emergency services were first alerted at 2:30 P.M. that a helicopter had crashed into the sea.

Police and Coast Guard officers arrived at the scene and began a search and rescue effort, pulling two of the casualties out of the water and recovering two more bodies later.

Chief air accident investigator Yitzhak Raz opened a probe into the circumstances of the accident.

Eyal Amrani, a lifeguard working at the beach, said that he heard an unusual noise before the helicopter hit the water. He said that he and another lifeguard immediately called police and Magen David Adom and then ran into the water.

"When we reached the site of the crash, we found two bodies and pulled them to the coast," said Amrani. "When we understood later that there are two additional casualties, we dove back out and found two more bodies strapped into their seats in the helicopter."

Meir, a guest of the Carmel Hotel in Netanya witnessed the crash as it happened.

"I saw the helicopter flying north of the hotel, about 500 meters from the beach," he said. "I focused on the helicopter and saw it slowly descend toward the water. Suddenly it flipped 90 degrees, the propeller hit the water and broke off and the helicopter dove into the water. I was in shock."

Netanya Police chief, Commander Amichai Eshed, said that it is unclear what caused the accident. He added that the quick recovery occurred thanks to a joint effort on the part of police, the Israel Defense Forces and the lifeguards at the scene.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in late 2008 downgraded Israel's aviation safety standing to Category 2 - meaning from first-world to third-world standards.

Not long after that, the Israel Airports Authority decided to allocate an unprecedented funding of approximately NIS 9.5 million for a training program for flight controllers, based on the training programs of the FAA.