Wreckage of Israeli helicopter found in Romania, 7 crew aboard assumed to be dead

By Alison Mutler, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7 crew reported dead in Israeli copter crash

BUCHAREST, Romania — The wreckage of an Israeli military helicopter that slammed into a mountain in central Romania has been found and none of the seven soldiers aboard — one Romanian and six Israelis — appear to have survived, officials said Tuesday.

Mircea Opris, Romania’s chief mountain rescue official, said the remains of the helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, were found after it crashed Monday. He said the chopper had burst into flames after it hit a mountain in a remote area.

“It is totally dismembered,” Opris told Realitatea TV.

Ciprian Aldea, a spokesman for the local police, said human remains and helicopter parts were scattered across the area.

“Corpses, as such, have not been found. It is a very difficult area, very rocky,” he said. “You can’t reach the area without the appropriate search equipment.”

An Israeli military official in Jerusalem also confirmed that the wreckage had been located and said the six missing Israelis were believed to be dead.

“It has been spotted from above, and has broken into two parts,” said Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir, a reserve officer with the Israeli air force.

“We have reason to believe that all seven crew are dead,” he said. “No bodies have been recovered.”

“It’s been a black day for all of us,” he said.

He said the helicopter had been carrying six Israelis — two experienced three-man flight crews — and one Romanian liaison officer when it crashed Monday afternoon during joint aviation exercises in which troops are trained to fly at low altitudes.

Shafir said two Israeli CH-53 helicopters were training in a mountainous area in heavy fog when one of the helicopters lost touch with the other and apparently hit the mountain.

On Tuesday, the Israeli air force sent an Israeli C-130 Hercules aircraft plane to Romania to help search for the Israeli helicopter.

Israel’s military has been training with the Romanians since 2004. The Israelis also train with other European militaries and with the U.S. to give their crews experience in unfamiliar terrain.

Associated Press writer Matti Friedman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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