The incident took place in a tank of the Armored Corps' 9th Battalion, 401st Brigade; the tank was a Merkava Mark IV. One of the casualties was a platoon commander. The IDF launched an investigation into the incident.
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Two IAF helicopters and a Magen David Adom helicopter evacuated the wounded to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The soldiers were transferred in MDA ambulances to the ICU, where they will be monitored.
An initial investigation conducted by the IDF revealed that while the soldiers were trying to retrieve a non-firing shell, the shell tore, and the soldiers were forced to gather the gunpowder which scattered in the hull.
The soldiers placed the remains of the shell in the designated container within the tank, in keeping with the standard operating procedures for an incident of this sort.
The drill continued, and the tank performed a live-fire exercise utilizing the MAG machine-gun atop the tank turret. During the exercise the crew replaced the barrel of the MAG, storing the scorching barrel in the container which held the gunpowder.
The powder ignited immediately, setting the hull on fire. The tank crew suffered from burns and smoke inhalation
'Soldiers followed protocol'"The fire alarm was set off instantly and put out the fire," said a senior source in the Armored Corps. He also said that at the end of the initial investigation – after a few hours' pause – the IDF drill resumed.
The source further noted that "the instinct is to put the dismantled MAG barrel in the container in which they put it, but this matter is being examined in the investigation. The conduct of the soldiers in retrieving the shell stuck in the barrel was according to protocol, and they wait 15 minutes until the shell retrieval."
He added, "The tear of the shell, an American model, is a known phenomenon and has happened in the past."
The director of the hospital, Professor Rafi Biar, said the three soldiers who suffered the heavier injuries are hospitalized at the ICU and two of them are receiving artificial respiration.
He said, "They are suffering mainly from burns and blast injuries, as well as general injuries, and are under the care of the hospital's doctors."
Accident injury rate rising
Tuesday's incident marks the third serious safety accident in less than two months in 9th Battalion of 401st Brigade, whose soldiers utilize the most advanced tank of its kind the world – the Merkava Mark IV.
In October, as a platoon from the battalion was returning from operations near the Gaza Strip by Kibbutz Alumim, a junior commander was treating the barrel on the tank turret when he accidentally ejected bullets which hit a soldier standing in the vicinity of the tank.
The soldier was moderately wounded and was evacuated to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
A week later Ynet revealed that the Trophy active protection system – designed to fire dummy counter-measures against missiles and rockets – installed in the tank had misfired.
The system identified a Golani Brigade armored personnel carrier as a threat, and was automatically triggered. An explosive was ejected by the system and exploded on the ground at the last moment without hitting the APC.
The brigade commander, Colonel Saar Tzur, recently addressed the incident with the Trophy system, saying that it was a rare occurrence which is "one in a million." Tzur added then that "the incident was investigated; the version of the operating system was update and returned to service."
He emphasized, "The system has many benefits compared to disadvantages. Before the last engagement in vicinity of Gaza I authorized the use of a new and deadly version of Trophy. Today an event like had occurred will no longer occur."
As of 2012, there has been an increase in the number of IDF soldiers killed during drills and exercises. Eight soldiers were killed last year in accidents, compared to only one life lost in 2011 and 20 in 2010.
Overall, no less than 85 soldiers were injured in training during 2012.
Ahiya Raved and Maor Buchnik contributed to this report
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