Two Air Force pilots, Lieutenant-Colonel Noam Ron, 49, from Oranit and Major Erez Flekser, 31, from Herzliya, were killed in a helicopter crash in the Revadim area south of Gedera on Tuesday. Contact with the Cobra helicopter was lost on Monday night prompting IDF forces to launch a search.
Air Force Commander Major-General Amir Eshel ordered the establishment of a military commission of inquiry. The victims' families have been notified.
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At around 1 am, a citizen driving on Route 3 reported seeing a large object in the air falling into a wheat field near Kibbutz Revadim. Magen David Adom teams, rescue and army forces were called to the scene.
In addition, Air Force jets canvassed the area. At around 5 am, part of the helicopter's propeller was found. Earlier, defense officials estimated that the helicopter had fallen into a water reservoir in the area where other parts may be found.
Forces are still busy collecting the fragments and the search is likely to continue until the evening hours. Air Force sources said that seeing as the two pilots were highly experienced, it is likely the crash was caused by a technical fault.
Air Force Commander Major-General Amir Eshel arrived the scene of the crash and met with the team investigating the circumstances behind the accident. He grounded all Cobra helicopters until the investigation concludes.
Noam Ron and his family (Reproduction photo courtesy of Ron family)
Major Erez Flekser. 'Salt of the earth' (Reproduction photo courtesy of Flekser family)
The IDF said that the helicopter had left a base in central Israel for a routine training flight together with another helicopter which returned to the Palmachim base base.
IAF chief Eshel arrives at scene of crash (Photo: Yativ Katz, Yedioth Ahronoth)
The helicopter performed further training at which point contact was lost. It did not report a malfunction and prior to the crash the pilots signaled "Six minutes to landing." The helicopter did not explode in the air but crashed into the ground as it did not carry a large amount of gas.
Helicopter parts found Tuesday morning (Photo: Yyz)
Moshe, a yeshiva student who participated in the search, said: "When we saw the mess in the air and the security forces we went to help with the search. We went into the field and several hundred meters into it found part of the helicopter's main rotor. The people with me found another part. It's fortunate the helicopter did not catch fire."
'We were never worried about Noam'
Yoni Ron, Lieutenant Colonel Noam Ron's brother, said, "He was such a talented pilot, with such advanced credentials and long years of experience that we were never worried about him. We don't know much about the accident. From what little we do know, it appears it was a technical fault."
Noam Ron lived in Oranit with his wife Ella and their three daughters, aged 16, 17 and 20.
Crushed helicopter (Photo: Eliad Levy)
His eldest serves as an officer in the IDF. The youngest is named after his brother, Eyal, a helicopter pilot as well, who died 16 years ago while hiking in the Judean Desert.
Erez Flekser is survived by a wife, Meirav and a four-month old baby – Uri. The two married two years ago, and lived in Herzliya.
Flekser, who studied Physics at the Tel Aviv University and was about to begin his PhD, grew up in Herzliya. His aunt said: "Erez's father died at 42 from a heart attack, and his mother raised him and his three brothers on her own."
Flekser and wife Meirav (Reproduction photo: George Ginsburg)
Udi Salant, Flekser's brother-in-law, said: "Erez was the salt of the earth. He loved hiking, the open terrain, camping and the land."
The past year has seen several Air Force accidents and near-accidents which fortunately had no casualties. In January 2012, a pilot and navigator were forced to abandon an F-16 jet in the Ramat David base due to a technical fault discovered during landing. The two pilots were unharmed and a commission of inquiry was established.
Crash scene (Photo: Roee Idan)
A week earlier, an F-16 jet on a routine flight in the north veered off the runway at Ramat David. No injuries were reported but damage was caused to the aircraft. An initial investigation suggests that a technical fault and not a human error had caused the jet to veer off.
Most recently, two senior IAF officers nearly crashed their jets into each other during a drill last September. They had been flying 100 meters apart, against protocol.
Ron Ben-Yishai, Itamar Fleishman and Raanan Ben Zur contributed to this report
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