Thousands attended on Tuesday the funeral of Major Chen Fogel, one of the two pilots killed when an IDF helicopter they were was flying crashed off the northern port city of Haifa the night before.
Fogel (27) was a helicopter pilot and deputy commander of the 193 Squadron at Ramat David Airbase near Haifa. He was posthumously promoted from captain to major.
Fogel is survived by his parents, Irit and Yaron, and brothers Shahar and Matan. His funeral was held in the Military Cemetery in Haifa.
Father Yaron eulogized his son, recalling a story from Chen's youth.
"He always avoided holding a weapon in his hand. He managed to get into the Navy's chopper unit so he would not have to do any offensive operations," he said.
"He was an intelligent kid, very wise and friendly. He grew up here in Haifa before we moved to Canada for two years. He missed the country so much he came back to Israel after a year."
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 military.
The bodies of Fogel and co-pilot Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani, who was also killed in the crash, were recovered from the water over an hour after the crash and were pronounced dead after extensive resuscitation efforts.
A third crew member, a naval officer, survived the crash. He has told friends that during the flight the chopper’s left engine caught fire, leading the pilots to initiate an emergency landing in the sea.
As per emergency regulations, the naval officer opened the helicopter’s side doors, and when the helicopter came down for a landing and was near the water he jumped out and swam away. The chopper then hit the water and the pilots did not survive.
The survivor 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.
Dozens of IDF soldiers combed the coastline until the early morning hours to recover fragments of the crashed helicopter as part of the incident's investigation.
Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani's funeral was held at 7pm Tuesday in the Misgav Cemetery.