Wreckage of Israeli helicopter found in Romania, 7 crew aboard presumed dead

By Alison Mutler, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7 crew reported dead in Israeli chopper crash

BUCHAREST, Romania — All seven people aboard an Israeli military helicopter — one Romanian and six Israelis — were killed when it crashed into a mountain in central Romania, officials said Tuesday.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53 Sea Stallion, crashed Monday during a military exercise in which crews are trained to fly at low altitudes. The joint exercises, which were due to end Thursday, were suspended after the crash.

Romanian search teams and Israeli representatives arrived at the crash site in a remote, mountainous area on Tuesday morning.

The Israeli military said Romanian officials had found seven bodies near the crash site. According to protocol, the military cannot formally announce they are dead until officials from the Military Rabbinate reach the scene and confirm the identities of the bodies.

“It was a great tragedy and this is hard day for the house of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neyanyahu said during a speech in Jerusalem Tuesday evening.

Romanian Defense Minister Gabriel Oprea sent condolences to families of those that died and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak expressing his “deep regret,” according to a ministry statement.

Oprea said religious and military ceremonies would be held early Wednesday at military units throughout Romania to honor the victims.

The Israeli military said the helicopter’s black box was found and will shed light on the circumstances that led to the accident.

Mircea Opris, Romania’s chief mountain rescue official, said the chopper had burst into flames after it slammed into the mountain. Ciprian Aldea, a local police spokesman, said human remains and helicopter parts were scattered across the area.

Shafir said two experienced Israeli three-man flight crews and one Romanian liaison officer had been on board. Two Israeli CH-53 helicopters had been training in a mountainous area in heavy fog when one of the helicopters lost touch with the other and apparently hit the mountain, he said.

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 and Alina Wolfe Murray in Bucharest contributed to this report.

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