Wrapped in Israeli flags, the coffins of six Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Romania on Monday were carried off a Boeing airplane Friday morning.
Chief Military Rabb Brigadier General Rafi Peretz – a helicopter pilot himself – participated in the ceremony that took place on the landing strip at the Tel Nof military base. After saying Kaddish, the military cantor sang the prayer for the dead.
In Haifa, thousands attended the funeral of Lt. Nir Lakrif, who left behind him a four-month pregnant wife. Maggie eulogized her husband of less than a year: "We say goodbye your way, in the sky, through your steel monster that you loved so much. Look after us from your big white cloud."
Nir's mother, Daniella, promise to raise her grandchild in the same manner she raised him. "I won't disappoint you. I thank you for her, I salute you." Nir's father, Yoav, added: "I am not burying you. I am letting you go for another routine flight, and we shall meet again. You were one of a kind; an officer and gentleman."
'Path not simple'
Hundreds gathered in Rehovot to bid farewell to Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen. An interview Cohen gave last Memorial Day was played over the cemetery's loudspeakers. "The path is not simple. Many fallen (soldiers) stand behind us and we seek ways to be careful during training. Every fallen (soldier) in the squadron has a story and we recount their stories among us, in order to be strong and learn.
"It commits us to be good – so their passing will not be in vain. We are obliged to be there for the fallen. We are here for the families, the friends, for everyone," he said then – and was buried himself on Friday.
Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Melul, said Oren's grandmother, Fruma, is a Holocaust survivor from Romania, and how she told him of the bizarre coincidence – her first grandchild, the continuing generation in Israel, died in Romania's Cryptic mountains.
Oren's brother, Roby, who also serves at the squadron, eulogized his brother: "Many would agree with me that you were a smart, talented, charismatic, strong man – a man of many talents, a guide. I will miss your criticism, often cynical, sometimes mean – your tough love and crushing kick.
"You were my best friend, my anchor. We always said the Sea Stallion is an evil beast that can withstand anything, but it couldn’t withstand you. We will always remember you. I love you. Look over us. You are the shiniest star in the skies," he said.
The funeral of Lt. Col (Res.) Avner Goldman from Modiin was eld at 12.15 pm at the military burial ground in Modiin cemetery. Maj. Yahel Keshet from Hatzerim was buried at 1 pm in Sharona military cemetery. The funeral of Maj. Lior Shai from Tel-Nof was to begin at 2 pm in Neve Hadar cemetery's military burial ground. Lt. Col. Daniel Shipenbauer from Moshav Kidron was to be laid to rest at 3 pm in the military section of Gderot's regional cemetery.
Early Friday, a joint ceremony was held in Romania before the bodies' return to Israel. Head of the IAF Air Squadron Brigadier-General Yaacov Shaharabani said that "the pain and sorrow were an unbearable burden." Shaharabani also addressed his Romanian peers and said, "This is not the way we hoped to conclude Blue Sky 2010 joint training exercise. Seven precious lives were lost in the tragic accident that happened Monday afternoon.
"We came here for a joint training which is a part of the close relationship between the two countries, between our two air forces. Friendship is not measured only in pleasant times. Moreover, it is when sad and unpleasant events strike that you come to appreciate real friendship," he added.
Romanian Air Force Deputy Commander Alexander Glushka said, "This year, Israeli and Romanian pilots training together and make the supreme sacrifice together. This has resulted in a closer relationship between us, proving that we support each other in joy but especially in sorrow."
Rotor recovered between rocksMeanwhile, the inquiry into the circumstances of the crash continued. The Boeing airplane carrying back the victims' coffins also carried additional fragments from the Sea Stallion chopper that crashed. Most fragments have already been transferred to Israel.
The helicopter's rotor, which landed further away from the helicopter's main body, was only recovered in Romania on Friday, after being wedged between rocks at the mountainside.
"They managed to push it into the valley, some 150 meters away," the head of the rescue team was quoted saying to the Romanian press. "Now the danger has been removed," he added, noting that the fragments will be transported to the Romanian Air Force base later on Friday.
The Air Force is keeping in constant touch with the Romanians, who are prepared to send additional fragments from the helicopter to Israel, if requested. The investigation committee is headed by (Res.) Brigadier-General Shlomo Mashiah, who formerly served as the head of the IAF Air Squadron.
Tova Dadon cotributed to this report
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