VIDEO - An Israel Defense Forces officer, serving as a combat pilot, was killed and three soldiers were wounded Thursday night as two Apache (Cobra) combat helicopters on their way to Lebanon to assist IDF forces operating against Hizbullah terrorists near Avivim collided and then crashed in the Ramot Naftali area, near the Koach Junction south of Kiryat Shmona. Rescue forces were mobilized to the scene.
The name of the pilot was cleared for publication Friday morning: Major Ran Yehoshua Kochva, 37, of Beit Hanania. His funeral will take place at 3 p.m. Friday at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul.
The circumstances of the incident were unclear, but IDF officials stressed that it was not caused by Hizbullah firing at the choppers.
According to an initial investigation, the helicopters apparently made contact in mid-air and then prepared for an emergency landing that went awry.
Rescue teams found the first chopper and were able to locate the second one minutes later. An initial inquiry revealed that the collision was an accident, not a terror attack. Rescue forces arrived to the scene of the accident and determined the death of one of the soldiers. Three other soldiers were transferred in serious, moderate and light condition to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Crashed Apache helicopter (Photo: AP)
A witness told Ynet that he and his friends noticed an air craft descending. "I told my friends, 'look something is falling out of the sky, it's going to crash.' After a few minutes I heard ambulances and I saw IDF forces and police heading to the area where the helicopter fell," the witness said.
The crash was also seen well in Metula. Shahar Gamilel recounted: "A few of us were sitting on the porch in my father's house, where you can see Emek Hahula and the Kiryat Shmona area. At a certain stage I saw a strong flash in the sky and balls of fire began to fall. After a few seconds an explosion was heard and then there was quiet."
Gamliel said that in the minutes before the crash no rockets were heard or seen in the area in which the helicopter crashed.
Another eyewitness said, “I was in Tel Chai when I suddenly heard a boom. I thought it was another rocket, but then rumors began to spread and when we arrived at the scene we saw a helicopter crashed on the mountainside.”
Mevuot Hermon Regional Council head Benny Ben Muvhar said, ‘luckily the helicopter tried to perform an emergency landing - because it was carrying a lot of ammunition and it could have caused major explosions. I couldn’t help but recall the helicopter disaster in Sha’ar Yeshuv.
In 1997 two combat helicopters on their way to Lebanon collided; 73 soldiers and officers were killed.
A separate accident almost ended in disaster on Wednesday, when a Sufa-type F-16 fighter jet encountered difficulties during takeoff, causing the pilots to eject at their southern Air Force base. The two were not injured, and the plane was stopped on the runway through a special net.
Hanan Greenberg and Hagai Einav contributed to this report