ROMANIA – An IDF official announced Wednesday evening that the army's search team had finished evacuating the bodies of six Air Force men killed in Monday's helicopter crash.
However now, the IDF delegation to Romania says, rabbis must identify the bodies, a process which could take quite a while and affect their return to Israel.
Some 30 rabbinate officials are currently working on the identification, using medical files brought from Israel. The delegation is expected to fly back with the bodies only after a thorough ID process, and the officials speculate that this could take until Thursday night or Friday morning.
The delegation also plans to hold a ceremony in honor of the six men before heading back to Israel.
Earlier Wednesday Israeli Consul General in Romania Lily Ben Harush arrived at the forensics lab in Brasov, where the bodies were brought, in order to begin the process of returning them to Israel.
The army has also finished gathering the scattered pieces of the helicopter that crashed, and will apparently not require another visit to the site.
IAF Chief of Staff Ido Nehushtan said earlier he believes the reason behind the crash would be discovered without using the black box which is believed to have been found at the scene Tuesday. It remains unclear whether the black box will be usable in its condition.
"At this point I don't want to speculate about the reasons for the accident. We need to be careful with this subject and wait for the investigation team," the IAF chief said.
Nehushtan told reporters gathered at Sde Dov Airport that he had spoken to the commander of the elite 669 search and recovery unit at the scene, who had told him that dozens of men were hard at work uncovering remains.
The IAF chief added that the soldiers had great difficulty searching the site because of its geographical layout. "Everyone understands the huge responsibility that lies on their shoulders. The commander of Unit 669 says he is proud of these men, and so am I," Nehushtan said.
Six victims (from left, clockwise): Lt. Col Avner Goldman, Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen, Lt. Col. Daniel Shipenbauer, Maj. Lior Shai, Lt. Nir Lakrif, and Maj. Yahel Keshet (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Office)
'Romanian authorities cooperated fully'
Brigadier-General Yakov Shaharabani, a senior IAF official, commanded the search for the victims he knew personally. Summing up the mission, he said, "The operation was carried out with severe weather conditions. The area is mountainous, with a steep cliff that is not easy to get to."
He added that his forces, numbering more than 50 troops, had cooperated extensively with Romanian authorities, and that "all of our requests were granted".
Witnesses say the crash site was devastated with the helicopter's ruins. Of the aircraft hardly a shred remains, aside from wheel and rotor parts.
The IAF chief said that before the crash, the two helicopters flying Monday had reached a cloudy area and that the second chopper had decided not to enter the cloud. The chopper that crashed, however, had apparently gone on in an attempt to circumvent the cloud, but did not succeed.
He stressed that the IAF had returned to full operational mode, including its fleet of Yasur helicopters. "The operations on our schedule obligate us to go back to work – these are serious missions with a high level of responsibility," he said.
The IAF chief said claims of a high level of accidents occurring in Yasur helicopters were false, and that the reliable choppers would continue to serve the Air Force for many years.
He said the Israeli Air Force was low on the global ranking of Yasur accidents. "We carry out many complex missions, and don't want to send out pilots unprepared. The pilots leave for missions with a feeling that they are sure of themselves and the training they have been given, and there is no substitute for this," he said.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report
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