Four people were killed Thursday morning when a light Piper aircraft conducting an instructional flight crashed at the Air Force Technical School in Haifa.
Three of the victims have been identified as 65-year-old flight instructor David Bechor and students Mustafa Amin Darawsheh and Moshe Bensel. The identity of the fourth victims has yet to be released.
Immediately after taking off, the instructor, who was flying the plane, contacted the air traffic control tower to report a malfunction, but while attempting to turn around, the plane reportedly hit a cluster of trees and caught on fire.
Scene of the crash
The crash took place mere yards away from one of the school's classroom, which luckily were empty at the time.
Rescue teams that arrived on the scene found a roaring blaze engulfing the aircraft. At first just three bodies were found among the wreckage, but a more extensive search revealed that another body that had become entangled in a nearby tree.
Yossi Gelsberg, director of the Haifa airstrip, told Ynet that the plane was headed south, adding that the circumstance of the crash were still unclear. Police Commander Benny Ablaya added that the plane had taken off and turned eastward on its way south, for training purposes. The pilot then reported a malfunction and tried to return, but crashed near the military base's fence.
The Civil Aviation Authority has lunched an inquiry into the crash. Thursday afternoon saw CAA crews gather the remains of the Piper, which were transported to a special CAA lot in southern Israel for forensic examination. Heading the investigation into the crash is Yitzhak Raz, the Transportation Ministry's chief accidents investigator.
Rescue teams at the scene
Shimon Biton, head of Magen David Adom emergency services in the Carmel district, said the four were killed on impact, and could not have been saved; adding that the fire that ravaged the scene made it doubly difficult for the search and rescue team to reach the victims.
Yosef Ben-Yosef, commander of Haifa's firefighting team, told Ynet the plane crashed just meters away from the school's classrooms. He said that despite the Passover holiday vacation, there had been a number of students taking a test in the classrooms just moments earlier.
An eyewitness told Ynet he had seen the plane zigzag across the sky. "I looked up and suddenly saw it dive to the ground, it just dropped like a stone," Yaakov Kayam said.
"There was a loud blast and afterwards we saw a mushroom explosion and black smoke," Kayam added, saying he thought the plane had crashed into a nearby army base.
"There was a panic but unfortunately we couldn't get near to help because it's a closed military base. A few moments later we heard ambulances arriving."
Yoav Zitun and Roi Mandel contributed to this report
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