Israeli Pilots Killed in Eurocopter AS565 Panther Helicopter Crash, Helos Grounded

Two Israeli Defense Force (IDF) pilots were killed when the Eurocopter AS565 Panther (Atalef) helicopter they were flying crashed Monday night.

The accident took place while the pilots were training off the coast of the northern city of Haifa. They were pulled from the water by rescue forces who were later unable to resuscitate them. A third soldier who was onboard the helicopter at the time of the incident survived.

Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief Amikam Norkin grounded all helicopters of the type that crashed, halted all training flights and appointed a team to investigate the crash. The helicopter that crashed was a 25-year old aircraft. They were acquired in 1996 to replace old maritime helicopters, Eurocopter’s MH-65 Dolphins.

The Atalef helicopters have been used in operations against enemy forces in Gaza and Lebanon, including in captures of Hezbollah vessels at sea and in the 2006 Lebanon War. They are operated by the IAF’s 193 Squadron out of Ramat David Airbase near Haifa. According to local media, the military will replace Atalef choppers in two years.

“This is a very sad night. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed in the helicopter accident and a swift recovery for the injured officer,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said Tuesday morning.

The Atalef is used primarily for missions at sea as it is capable of landing on Israeli Navy missile ships. It can land on missile ships and is used to surveil enemy coastlines, locate maritime targets and conduct search-and-rescue (SAR) operations.