7 bodies found near chopper crash site
IDF informs families of six missing Israeli soldiers that Romanian officials have signed death certificates for seven bodies found near site of helicopter crash. Army, Rabbinate representatives head to area to identify troops. Romanian president sends letter of condolences to Peres, Netanyahu calls incident 'great tragedy'
ROMANIA - The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday afternoon notified the families of the soldiers missing following Monday's helicopter crash in Romania that search teams located seven bodies near the crash site.
The army's announcement came minutes after the defense ministry in Bucharest published a similar statement saying there were no survivors in the crash.
The IDF said reports were received in Romania that an authorized Romanian official signed death certificates for the seven bodies that were found near the crash site.
Representatives from the Military Rabbinate who arrived in Romania are preparing to reach the scene of the accident to verify the information.
The Romanian Defense Ministry announced that military bases across the country will hold a memorial service in honor of the dead at 8 am Wednesday.
The Romanian defense minister expressed deep sorrow over the soldiers' death, and wished to convey his condolences to the bereaved families. He noted that the inquiry commission that was appointed to probe the crash was continuing with its work.
Romanian President Traian Basescu sent a letter to President Shimon Peres with his condolences to the families of the soldiers who died in the IAF crash.
"It is with great sorrow that I received the news of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of the Israeli soldiers," Basescu wrote. "I ask that you pass the mourning families my sincere condolences and my sentiments of sympathy for the tragedy that has befallen us. It is my wish to assure you that the Romanians fully identify with the people of Israel during these difficult times."
Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea also passed on his condolences to Israel following the disaster. A letter sent from his ministry to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his behalf wrote that he feels "deep sorrow" over the crash.
Netanyahu 'all choked up'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the crash in his speech at the National Security College graduation ceremony in Jerusalem, and said the incident was a great tragedy and a difficult day for the entire nation.
"We are choked up today hearing about how the heroes fell from on high, how the vessels of war fell to the earth," the prime minister said.
Since their bodies have yet to be identified by the Military Rabbinate, the prime minister referred to them as missing soldiers. "The people of Israel are worried about the best of our sons who were on an important mission for Israel's security, sent by the IDF and the State. We express our concern for the fate of the Romanian crew member."
Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli military official in Jerusalem 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.
Search in crash site (Photo: AFP)
The IDF released early Tuesday the names of the six Israeli crew members involved in the crash:
Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Avner Goldman celebrated his 48th birthday last week at his home. At the entrance to his house in Modiin, a sign still hangs – "Congratulations on your 48th birthday. With love, from all of us."
Just a few hours before the disaster, he managed to send a text message to his wife Orit. "Kisses and regards to everyone," he wrote. His wife said, "He was a smart man, a good person, the best husband I could have asked for. I told the kids, 'At least he didn't suffer. Until the very last moment, he had a smile on his face.' We were privileged to have a wonderful husband and father, an amazing person." Avner leaves behind him a wife and four children, aged 22, 18, 16, and 13.
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Shipenbauer just moved to his new house in Moshav Kidron, near the Tel-Nof base, on Thursday after years of migrating between Air Force bases. "He is a very veteran pilot, a real professional, and, on the other hand, a very simple and modest man," said his brother-in-law. "This is not the first time he has flown to such distances. He wanted to go there."
Daniel is survived by his wife, Yael, and three children – Amit, 16, Roee, 12, and Yonatan, 8.
Major Lior Shai never dreamed of being a pilot. His mother said that he went to try-outs and succeeded. "After the course, he arrived at the Yasurim squadron and was very happy about it," she said.
According to the mother, he returned to the squadron this year after he began studying electrical engineering at Tel Aviv University. He planned on returning to his studies next year. "He was excited about the flight because he had waited for it so long," she said. Lior leave behind him his wife, Tamar, and their four-month-old baby.
Air Force commander outside Goldman house (Photo: Ohad Zoigenberg)
Major Yahel Keshet wanted to serve in the commandos, where his father served. Going to cadets' course was his second priority. But he successfully passed the course and continued to progress through the Air Force. In another two weeks, he was slated to be appointed the deputy commander of the squadron in which he served.
His parents spoke of their last meeting with him before he left for Romania. "We told him good luck and that he should enjoy himself because he really loved the field. I asked him if he'll be able to call from there, and he said no. So we were left to wait until the day he was scheduled to return – Thursday."
Yahel is survived by his wife, Hofit, and two children – Harel, 2, and Ofri, two-months old.
Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen, an airplane mechanic from Rehovot, served in the squadron in which his father served as a professional soldier. From a young age, he was around the Yasur choppers. Since Tuesday morning, his friends have written emotional farewells on his Facebook page, and have even posted excerpts from Psalms. Oren's younger brother is also serving in the squadron and was on duty when the accident occurred.
Lieutenant Nir Lakrif married Maggie, who is now four-months pregnant, only one year ago. His uncle said, "Nir was an example of excellence for many. He completed his studies at Air Force technical school with honors, enlisted, and completed his training as a mechanic, a position he chose together with a select group of people who are the pride of the Air Force and the State of Israel. This was also the position he filled during this exercise."
The seventh soldier killed in the crash was 31-year-old Captain Stefan-Claudiu Dragnea, of the Romanian Air Force. He was survived by a wife who is five months pregnant.
Attila Somfalvi, Hanan Greenberg, Eli Senyor, Meital Yasur-Beit Or, Ahiya Raved, Hagai Einav, Yoav Zitun, Roi Mandel and Boaz Fyler contributed to this report
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