VIDEO - The Romanian Ministry of Defense says there are no survivors in an Israeli military helicopter crash in central Romania and that all seven crew members – six Israelis and one Romanian – have been killed, the Antena3 television network reported Tuesday afternoon.
The official announcement was made although the bodies of the missing soldiers had yet to be recovered. The ministry added that memorial ceremonies would be held in all military bases in Romania at 8 am Wednesday.
Officials said earlier that the wreckage of an Israeli military helicopter that slammed into a mountain was found and that none of the seven soldiers aboard appeared to have survived.
Romanian rescue forces estimated that it would take some time to locate the bodies of the crewmembers as the remains of the plane have been scattered over a large piece of land and due to the weather conditions in the area.
Mircea Opris, Romania's chief mountain rescue official, said the remains of the helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, were found after it crashed Monday. He said the chopper had burst into flames after it hit a mountain in a remote area.
"It is totally dismembered," Opris told Realitatea TV.
Ciprian Aldea, a spokesman for the local police, said human remains and helicopter parts were scattered across the area.
"Corpses, as such, have not been found. It is a very difficult area, very rocky," he said. "You can't reach the area without the appropriate search equipment."
An Israeli military official in Jerusalem also confirmed that the wreckage had been located and said the six missing Israelis were believed to be dead.
"It has been spotted from above, and has broken into two parts," said Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir, a reserve officer with the Israel Air Force.
"We have reason to believe that all seven crew are dead," he said. "No bodies have been recovered."
"It's been a black day for all of us," he said.
'Very hard to survive such an incident'
He said the helicopter had been carrying six Israelis – two experienced three-man flight crews – and one Romanian liaison officer when it crashed Monday afternoon during joint aviation exercises in which troops are trained to fly at low altitudes.
Shafir said two Israeli CH-53 helicopters were training in a mountainous area in heavy fog when one of the helicopters lost touch with the other and apparently hit the mountain.
IDF Spokesperson Avi Benayahu told Ynet on Tuesday afternoon, "It's hard to survive such an incident."
Brigadier-General Benayahu said that at the first stage the families were informed that their loved ones were missing, but that he had also discussed the possibility that they did not survive the crash.
"According to the findings we have," he said, "the plane crashed on the mountainside and fell hundreds of meters down. This is quite a difficult incident and it's very hard to survive such a thing."
The IDF released early Tuesday the names of the six Israeli crew members involved in the crash. The pilots were named as Lt. Col (Res.) Avner Goldman, 48, from Modi'in; Lt. Col. Daniel Shipenbauer, 43, from Moshav Kidron; Maj. Yahel Keshet, 33, from Hatzerim; and Maj. Lior Shai, 28, from Tel-Nof. The mechanics aboard the chopper were Lt. Nir Lakrif, 25, from Tel- Nof; and Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen, 24, from Rehovot.
An Israeli team, including staff from the embassy in Bucharest, also arrived at the crash site. In addition, an IAF Hercules plane has departed for Romania and is slated to reach the helicopter crash site by noon Tuesday. The plane is carrying medical personnel, rabbinate representatives and IAF professionals who will assist in the search for the helicopter and its crew.
Israel's military has been training with the Romanians since 2004. The Israelis also train with other European militaries and with the US to give their crews experience in unfamiliar terrain.
Ynet's correspondent in Romania, Attila Somfalvi, reported that the area where the helicopter crashed was mountainous and nearly impossible to access by car.
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