Report: Rescue chief says 4 bodies found at Romanian site of Israeli helicopter crash

Monday, July 26, 2010

Report: 4 bodies found at Romania crash site

BUCHAREST, Romania — A rescue official said four bodies have been found in a mountainous area where a helicopter carrying a Romanian and six Israelis crashed Monday during military training exercises, a Romanian news agency reported.

Fanica Boboc, head of mountain rescue in the Bran region of central Romania, told the Mediafax news agency that four bodies were found and that the Israeli helicopter had caught fire. The bodies have not been identified.

The CH-53 transport helicopter crashed near the central Romanian town of Zarnesti, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Bucharest. Romanian media reported that rescue workers said it apparently crashed at 2,246 meters (7,369 feet).

The Israeli military said in a statement that seven people were aboard the helicopter — four Israeli pilots and two mechanics, as well as a member of the Romanian air force. The statement said families of the Israeli airmen have been notified.

Defense Ministry spokesman Constantin Spanu earlier said the helicopter lost radio contact mid-afternoon Monday. He declined to comment on the reports.

The ministry said the cause of the crash was still unknown, but Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea has ordered an investigation and sent officials to the area.

Rescue efforts will continue through the night, though they were impeded by bad weather, the defense ministry said. It identified the Romanian on board as Air Force Capt. Stefan-Claudiu Dragnea, 31.

Earlier this month, the ministry reported that an Israeli CH-53 made an emergency landing on July 18 due to unspecified technical problems.

  Romanian and Israeli troops are taking part in Blue Sky 2010, 11-day joint aviation exercises in which troops are trained to fly at low altitude in search, rescue and medical evacuation exercises. 

The Israeli air force said it is planning to send a plane to Romania with medical personnel and search and rescue teams.

Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu, the chief military spokesman, said the training program in Romania is meant to drill procedures in difficult terrain. He said the Israeli airmen on the helicopter are classified as missing.

The CH-53 helicopter, also known as Sikorsky, has recorded at least five crashes in Israel. The worst was in 1997, when two Sikorsky craft collided over the Israel-Lebanon border, killing all 73 soldiers aboard. Twenty years earlier, a Sikorsky went down in the desert near the Jordan River, killing 54 soldiers. In three other crashes, one person was killed.

Interviewed on Israel TV, Benayahu refused to compare to previous crashes. “The Sikorsky has a proud history of missions far from Israel’s borders,” he said.


Associated Press writer Mark Lavie in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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