The Israeli naval officer who was the sole survivor of a fatal helicopter crash on Tuesday told the story of how he tried to save his two crew members after they crashed into the ocean.
"I was able to pull myself out of the helicopter, and only after many attempts to rescue my friends, Erez Sachyani and Chen Fogel, was I rescued by a Coast Guard boat," Captain Ron Berman recounted from his hospital bed.
As the hours pass, Berman's heroism becomes clear. Although he himself was moderately injured in the crash, he continued to try rescuing his peers, who eventually did not make it.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin and Commander of the Israeli Navy Maj. Gen. David Saar Salama paid a visit to Capt. Berman, who was hospitalized at Rambam Health Care Campus in the northern port city of Haifa, and expressed their appreciation for his actions and the composure he displayed.
"You did everything you could and everything possible," Salama told Berman. "You acted responsibly, swiftly, showing companionship... Hang on, I know you're strong. We're here for everything you need, waiting for your return."
“You acted bravely and calmly, I am glad you’re alive. You’re receiving excellent care. Come back to us fast, they’re waiting for you at home and in the squadron,” IAF chief Norkin said.
Meanwhile, preliminary findings released Tuesday evening suggested that a severe malfunction was most likely the cause behind the fatal crash.
The helicopter that crashed — a Eurocopter AS565 Panther, or "Atalef" (Hebrew for bat) as it is known by the Israeli Air Force — was taking part in a training exercise Monday night when it went down.
According to the report, as the crew was making its way back to base, the helicopter's left engine caught on fire and power was cut off from the rest of the aircraft.
However, the pilots — Major Chen Fogel and Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani — managed to make an emergency landing at sea. The surviving crew member, Captain Ron Berman, said that he tried to rescue his peers but failed, owing to the complete darkness at the time and heavy smoke that filled the cockpit.
Contrary to initial estimates on the night of the incident, the crew did manage to activate the helicopter's buoyancy system, thus allowing the officer to float on the aircraft's wreckage and save himself.
He went back after Fogel and Sachyani, trying to save the two without success, and then contacted the squadron's commander using his personal cell phone.
Berman was rescued by the Coast Guard and taken to Haifa's Rambam Health Care Campus, having sustained moderate injuries. He was admitted to the hospital's shock room for preliminary treatment before being moved to the Intensive Care Unit. On Tuesday, he was released from the ICU in good condition and was transferred for further treatment in the Division of Orthopedics and Traumatology.
The bodies of Fogel Sachyani were recovered from the water over an hour after the crash and were pronounced dead after extensive resuscitation efforts.
Israeli Air Force investigators estimated that one or two minutes elapsed from the moment the fire broke out and the aircraft hit the water.
It is not yet clear why the pilots were unable to get themselves out of the helicopter, but it is known that all three crew members were wearing seat belts during the flight.
Major Chen Fogel was laid to rest at 4:30pm Tuesday in the Military Cemetery in Haifa and Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani's funeral was held at 7pm in the Misgav Cemetery.