Entire Fleet Grounded After Israel Chopper Catches Fire in Mid-Air
22:00 27.11.2019(updated 22:09 27.11.2019)
The Israeli Air Force is keeping all its Yasur heavy-lift helicopters firmly on the ground after one burst into flames in mid-air on Tuesday with more than a dozen soldiers aboard.
The pilot's quick thinking saved the lives of all 14 people on board the helicopter when he landed the chopper safely less than a minute after discovering its engine was on fire, the senior officer on board the craft told the Times of Israel.
The Israel Defence Force told the Times the Sikorsky S65C-3 Yasur helicopter had suffered a "technical malfunction," noting the "incident will be investigated."
Haaretz reported the helicopter was flying at about 550 feet altitude when it was forced down in the northern Negev desert, near the town of Beit Kama, while carrying 11 members of the elite Shaldag commando unit, which Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz once commanded.
"We were notified of a helicopter fire west of Beit Kama," local fire chief Avi Arush told the Times of Israel. "As this was a complicated situation, additional firefighting teams were called to the scene and, when we arrived, we all worked to put out the fire and to look for anyone trapped inside. Luckily, the occupants of the helicopter made it out intact and healthy before we arrived at the scene."
However, the fire eventually consumed the aircraft, which was a complete loss.
After the fire, Israeli Air Force Commander Amikam Norkin ordered Israel's entire 22-chopper fleet of Yasurs to be grounded. Haaretz noted a State Comptroller's Office report this past March warned that pushing the IAF's Yasur fleet beyond its maximum recommended flight hours could "erode the IDF's core capabilities, in which the Yasur fleet plays a central role."
The Yasur is based on the United States' CH-53 Super Stallion, a powerful heavy-lifting helicopter used for transport of men and machines as well as anti-submarine roles.
Perhaps the most infamous incident involving Israel's Yasur fleet is the 1997 disaster in which two Yasurs fully loaded with IDF troops collided in midair while ferrying them into southern Lebanon, killing all 73 people on board. Tragically, one of the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene killed himself this past July, following decades of struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the incident, Arutz Sheva reported.
More recently, an IDF Yasur crashed in 2010 during a joint exercise with the Romanian Air Force, killing all five on board the helicopter.
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