1997 Israeli helicopter disaster
An IDF/AF CH-53 Yasur 2000 similar to the aircraft that collided
|Date||February 4, 1997|
|Site||She'ar Yashuv in northern Israel
|Type||Sikorsky S-65C-3 Yas'ur 2000|
|Operator||Israeli Air Force|
|Type||Sikorsky S-65C-3 Yas'ur 2000|
|Operator||Israeli Air Force|
The 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster Hebrew: אסון המסוקים: Ason HaMasokim, lit. Disaster of the Helicopters) occurred on 4 February 1997, when two Israeli Air Force transport helicopters ferrying Israeli soldiers into Israel's "security zone" in southern Lebanon collided in mid-air, killing all 73 Israeli military personnel on board. The crash brought about widespread national mourning, and is considered a leading factor in Israel's decision to withdraw from southern Lebanon in 2000.
Israel had originally moved troops by ground, but this policy was changed as the threat of roadside bombs increased. As a result, Israel increasingly began ferrying soldiers by air into southern Lebanon.
Two Sikorsky S-65C-3 Yas'ur 2000 helicopters, 357 and 903, were assigned on a mission to fly Israeli soldiers and munitions into southern Lebanon, originally scheduled for February 3, but pushed up a day due to bad weather conditions. On February 4, the weather conditions were still poor for flying due to fog, but in the afternoon visibility improved, and the mission was allowed to go forward.
The two helicopters took off from Tel Nof Airbase and flew to Rosh Pina Airport, from where they collected the troops. One helicopter, numbered 903, was designated to fly to the "Pumpkin" Outpost, east of Nabatiyeh, and had four crew and 32 passengers on board. The second helicopter, 357, was to fly to an Israeli position at Beaufort Castle, and had four crew and 33 passengers on board.
At 6:48 PM, after final approval was given and the soldiers had been briefed, both helicopters were cleared to take off. A minute after takeoff, the captain of helicopter 903 requested permission from air traffic control to cross the border into Lebanon, but permission was delayed, and the helicopters ended up hovering until 6:56 PM, when a controller confirmed that they had permission to cross. Three minutes later, the helicopters disappeared from radar.
The two helicopters collided over moshav She'ar Yashuv in northern Israel. An Israeli investigation concluded that the rotor of helicopter 357 had struck the tail of helicopter 903. Helicopter 357 immediately crashed, while the crew of helicopter 903 attempted to take control of it, but failed, and it crashed as well. According to one witness who observed the event from the ground, "Two helicopters passed over my house without their lights on. Then there was a flash. One fell straight away and the other wavered for half a kilometer . . . then it also exploded." One of the helicopters crashed in a fireball directly onto She'ar Yashuv, setting an empty bungalow on fire, while the other crashed into the cemetery of kibbutz Dafna a few hundred yards away. Fires, fueled by gasoline from the helicopters, broke out on the ground, and munitions that had been stored aboard the helicopters cooked off and set off a series of explosions. Some witnesses claimed they could hear faint cries coming from the wreckage, but they could not get close to the because of the explosions, and that the cries ceased after the explosions. One witness claimed to have seen a soldier thrown from a helicopter who initially still had a pulse, but died soon after.
Following the crash, soldiers, firefighters, and rescue crews raced to the scene, and Magen David Adom rushed twenty ambulances and two intensive care units. However, it soon became clear there were no survivors. Fearing that additional ammunition could explode, the IDF cordoned off all communities in the area, declaring them closed military zones, shut down all local roads, and sent in bomb squads to collect additional explosive materials. This created massive traffic jams and temporarily prevented hundreds of people from reaching their homes. Rescue crews recovered bodies and pieces of equipment from the scene, and some of the dead were found still strapped into their seats. The bodies were taken to a makeshift morgue set up on a nearby military base for identification. The IDF censored news of the crash for more than two hours to enable the families of the victims to be informed, but swift identification proved impossible. All of the bodies had been recovered by the morning of February 5.
The crash was the deadliest air disaster in Israeli history. A wave of national mourning swept Israel. According to Joshua L. Gleis, "In a close knit country where nearly everyone joins the military, a huge portion of the nation's population knew at least one of the soldiers killed in the crash." February 6 was declared an official day of mourning. Flags were flown at half-mast, restaurants and cinemas closed, the Knesset observed a minute of silence, and the names of the dead were read out at the beginning of every news bulletin on television and radio. Thousands of Israelis went to pray at the Western Wall and assemblies were held at schools nationwide. Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai appointed a commission headed by David Ivry to investigate the cause of the collision.
The disaster sparked renewed debate about Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. Later that year, the Four Mothers, an anti-war protest movement dedicated to pressing for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, was founded. This event is seen as a catalyst for Israel's withdrawal from the security zone in Lebanon in 2000.
Lt. Shai Abukasis, 22, of Mikhmoret
Sgt. Itai Adler, 19, of Ra'anana
St.-Sgt. Avraham Afner, 21, of Kiryat Tiv'on
St.-Sgt. Idan Alper, 20, of Bat Yam
St.-Sgt. Avner Alter, 20, of Ashdot Ya'akov Ihud
St.-Sgt. Yonatan Amadi, 20, of Ma'ale Adumim
Sgt. 1st Cl. Saguy Arazi, 22, of Kfar Yona
St.-Sgt. Ran Arman, 20, of Ra'anana
St.-Sgt. Emil Azoulai, 20, of Ashkelon
Lt. Alon Babayan, 21, of Givat Ze'ev
St.-Sgt. Rafi Balalti, 20, of Migdal HaEmek
1st Sgt. Hussein Bashir, 28, of Beit Zarzir
St.-Sgt. Nir Ben-Haim, 20, of Yifat
Lt. Kobi Ben-Shem, 20, of Ramat HaSharon
Lt. Saguy Berkovitz, 21, of Alfei Menashe
1st Sgt. Maj. Paul Bivas, 26, of Ashdod
Lt. Dotan Cohen, 21, of Hadera
Maj. Yirmi Cohen, 23, of Rosh HaAyin
St.-Sgt. Assaf Dahan, 19, of Jerusalem
Maj. (Res.) Yasys Eden, 44, of Ramat HaSharon
Lt. Gil Eisen, 21, of Ness Ziona
Sgt. Noam Etzioni, 20, of Megadim
Sgt. Menachem Feldman, 20, of Haifa
Sgt. Moleto Gideon, 21, of Lod
Sgt. Avishai Gidron, 19, of Kiryat Motzkin
Sgt. 1st Cl. Tamir Glazer, 24, of Holon
St.-Sgt. Aviv Golan, 24, of Beit Yosef
Sgt. Tomer Goldberg, 19, of Dishon
St.-Sgt. Aviv Gonen, 20, of Petah Tikva
St.-Sgt. Micha Gottlieb, 20, of Tel Aviv
Maj. Ronen Halfon, 35, of Tiberias
Sgt. Alejandro Hoffman, 19, of Misgav Am
Maj. Yisrael Hushni, 34, of Tel Aviv
St.-Sgt. Shahar Kasus, 20, of Alfei Menashe
St.-Sgt. Michael Katz, 20, of Mitzpe Netofa
Sgt. Fadi Kazamel, 19, of Beit Jann
Sgt. Tomer Kedar, 21, of Negba
St.-Sgt. Tom Kita'in, 20, of Neve Shalom
St.-Sgt. Ilan Lanchitski, 20, of Haifa
Lt. Dvir Lanir, 21, of Moledet
Capt. Avishai Levy, 27, of Tel Aviv
St.-Sgt. Shilo Levy, 21, Karnei Shomron
St.-Sgt. Nadav Lishinski, 20, of Sde Avraham
Sgt. 1st Cl. Eitan Maman, 25, of Beersheba
Sgt. 1st Cl. Gal Meisels, 24, of Kiryat Ata
Sgt. Yaakov Melamed, 20, of Petah Tikva
Capt. Dr. Vadim Melnick, 34, of Safed
Sgt. Vladislav Michaelov, 22, Tel Aviv
Sgt. Idan Minker, 20, of Nir Yitzhak
St.-Sgt. Gilad Mishaiker, 20, of Jerusalem
St.-Sgt. Gilad Moshel, 20, of Tel Aviv
Lt.-Col. Moshe Mualem, 31, of Beersheba
St.-Sgt. Haran Eliezer Parnas, 20, Herzliya
Lt. Eren Hai Peretz, 21, of Deganya Alef
Sgt. Vitali Pesahov, 19, of Acre
Cpl. Shlomo Pizuati, 19, of Tiberias
Sgt. Gidon Posner, 22, of Tel Aviv
Capt. Dr. Vitaly Radinsky, 33, of Or Akiva
Sgt. 1st Cl. Kamal Rahal, 27, of Zarzir
Sgt. Shahar Rosenberg, 19, of Ness Ziona
St.-Sgt. Assaf Rotenberg, 20, of Tel Aviv
Sgt. Moshe Saban, 19, of Hod HaSharon
Lt. Nir Schreibman, 20 of Kfar Saba
St.-Sgt. Itamar Shai, 20, of Jerusalem
St.-Sgt. Omer Shalit, 19, of Jerusalem
Sgt. Yiftach Shlapobersky, 20, Hod HaSharon
St.-Sgt. Gil Sharabi, 20, of Rehovot
St.-Sgt. Tsafrir Sharoni, 22, of Netanya
St.-Sgt. Tsafrir Shoval, 22, of Bar'am
Lt. Erez Shtark, 21, of Kiryat Ata
St.-Sgt. Assaf Siboni, 20, Nir Am
Sgt. Yaron Tsofiof, 20, of Tel Aviv
Sgt. Dani Zahavi, 19, of Haifa
A memorial to the 73 dead IDF soldiers was created near the crash site of one helicopter next to the cemetery of kibbutz Dafna. It was inaugurated in 2008. The memorial consists of a number of elements, the most visible being 73 stones erected around a round pool to which water is directed through a channel. The 73 names are written on black blocks placed under the water of the pool. A Bible verse from Job 41:17 is inscribed. The monument was designed by architect Shlomit Shlomo, landscape architects Haim Cohen and Gilad Sharon, sculptor Rami Feldstein; sculptor Dani Karavan acted as an adviser for the project. In moshav She'ar Yashuv, where the second helicopter crashed, another monument was erected. On the southeast edge of the moshav, the "Forest of the Fallen" was planted to memorize the dead. The forest has 73 trees, one for each victim of the crash.
There are numerous other memorial monuments throughout Israel commemorating the disaster. In addition, there exist memorials for individual soldiers in the places where they lived.
On February 15, 2017, a memorial service was held in kibbutz Dafna to mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster. Bereaved families of the victims attended, as well as President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot.
- Segal, Naomi. "Pilot error may be cause of horrific helicopter crash", Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 14 February 1997. Accessed 11 June 2006.
- Segal, Naomi. "Discipline recommended in copter crash that killed 73", Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 25 April 1997. Accessed 11 June 2006.
- Eisenberg, Laura Zittrain (September 1997). "Israel's Lebanon Policy". Middle East Review of International Affairs. 1 (3). Retrieved 2011-02-23.
- "מרקיע שחקים - עודכן! התנגשות יסעורים 357 ו-903 (אסון שאר ישוב)". Retrieved 13 February 2017.
- Gleis, Joshua L: Withdrawing Under Fire: Lessons Learned from Islamist Insurgencies, P. 104
- "Israel buries helicopter crash dead". 6 February 1997. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
- Rachel S. Harris and Ranen Omer-Sherman (editors) (2012). Narratives of Dissent: War in Contemporary Israeli Arts and Culture. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 49–55. ISBN 9780814338032. Retrieved 30 January 2016.
- "Helicopter Crash Memorial, Israel - Israel and You". Retrieved 13 February 2017.
- Ashkenazi, Eli (1 August 2013). "Israel Police to Investigate Desecration of IDF Helicopter Accident Memorial". Retrieved 13 February 2017 – via Haaretz.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster monument.|
- "Military helicopters collide in Israel, killing scores", CNN, 4 February 1997. Accessed 11 June 2006.
- " The Israeli Helicopter Crash- Reactions in Lebanon", News at Lebanon, 5 February 1997. Accessed 11 June 2006.