A serious disaster was averted when two F-16 fighter jets almost hit a paraglider in the north last week, but managed to pull away at the last moment and avoid collision, Ynet learned Tuesday.
The incident occurred during a routine battle flight formation training exercise. Four IAF
jets took off at noon from a base in the south, heading north. As part of the drill, the formation transitioned to a lower altitude, when somewhere above the Galilee Mountains, the commanding officer, Major Yoni (Res.) suddenly noticed a parachuter
just a few hundred meters from the aircrafts.
"I looked up and I saw him, right in front of me," Yoni recounted. "It took me a second to understand what I was seeing and I immediately realized that if we continue to fly at the same speed, the two jets to my left would crash into him within seven seconds.
"I shouted out to the entire formation on the radio, telling them to pull away, a second later all four jets climbed to higher altitude, flying right over him."
F-16 (Photo: Gettyimages)
Lieutenant-Colonel Assaf, who was in charge of the IAF's inquiry into the incident, said that earlier that day, "A civilian had called, asking for permission to fly paragliders in the Beit Jann area. He was refused due to the scheduled training in the area."
"A few minutes later, the same man called, reporting there were paragliders in the area, which immediately led us to limit any activity there." But three hours later, Lt.-Col. Assaf noted, "We okayed the squadron's training as planned."
Apparently, the paraglider did not break any rule. According to Assaf, "I looked into airspace laws, and that parachuter didn't break any law, and he even went the extra mile by calling ahead to let us know he was about to head out."
An IAF source stressed that as long as paragliding is not regulated and parachuters do not coordinate their activities with authorities, such encounters may reoccur. "The detection systems in jets don't recognize parachuters, as they glide at almost zero speed, unlike moving targets," he said.
In the absence of regulation, the IAF said that air sports have been hindering training and security protocol. "Unfortunately problems arise, even this year – a similar paraglider accidentally glided into Sinai, and many others go into the Dimona reactor's
air space," said an official with the IAF.
"On such incidents, we're less forgiving. Most parachuters cooperate with us, but as long as the matter is not regulated, everyone with a little money can go wherever he or she wants with the paraglider," he added.
Commenting on the issue, former IAF chief and current Civil Aviation Authority Director Giora Rom
told Ynet: "Just as paragliders are not allowed to fly over the Ben Gurion Airport, they should not be flying over other hazardous areas. The Civil Aviation Authority is no judge in these cases, and enforcement is in the hands of the police."
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