15 Years Since CH-53 Crash

The CH-53 Sea Stallion 15 Years Since CH-53 Crash

The Memorial Monument Honoring the Fallen 15 Years Since CH-53 Crash

The CH-53 Sea Stallion 15 years have passed, and the mark of the largest catastrophe in the history of the IAF is still eminent. We present to you the words of commander of the squadron immediately after the helicopter crash, and the words of head of the aerial squadron for helicopters, which was founded as a result

Dana Rusou

15 years have passed since the CH-53 Sea Stallion crash in Northern Israel. The catastrophe, which at the time was considered the largest aerial accident in the world, took the lives of 17 fighters, out of which eight were IAF personnel and 65 were from Nahal and other divisions, on their way to IDF standpoints in the security strip in Southern Lebanon. “The week following the accident was the most difficult of my life”, said Lieutenant Colonel A’, commander of the squadron. “From the first moment it was clear to me that this is a catastrophe on a national scale and that the most important thing is to take care of the squadron and the bereaved families. I knew that much of everything was up to me and the way I was going to deal with the situation”.

Several minutes after seven, Lieutenant Colonel A’s cellular phone rang as he was driving his car. “On the other line was deputy commander of the squadron, who told me that two helicopters had disappeared, that no one was able to get in touch with them and that the situation is becoming very worrisome. I tried to calm down to avoid running to the squadron in a frenzy. It was clear to me that it was very bad. I started to breathe heavily, my heart rate went up and the feeling was one of profound devastation. I arrived at the squadron, and everyone was walking around with their heads in the ground. After the extent of the catastrophe was revealed, we divided ourselves into groups and went to notify the families of the dead. Because the accident had already been reported in the media, the families already knew and in fact were only waiting for the official notification”.

“Could We Have Done it Differently”?

After he processed the pain and the extent of the tragedy, questions and thoughts began to bother Lieutenant Colonel A’. “Could we have done it differently? Could we have avoided the accident?”, he fretted. “I was looking for answers. As commander of the squadron, I have a commanding and personal responsibility to every pilot and fighter that boards a helicopter of the squadron”.

The same questions bothered all executives of the force those days. An investigation committee was formed, and one of its conclusions was to nominate a Brigadier General to be commander of the helicopter formation in the IAF. The person who holds the title head of the aerial squadron for helicopters today is Brigadier General David Barki, who is very familiar with the circumstances that lead to his appointment. Brigadier General Barki was nominated as Deputy Commander of the “Night Leaders” squadron immediately following the accident, and took part in leading the squadron through its rehabilitation process. “That day, I returned from my studies and sat down to eat dinner with my family”, Brigadier General told the IAF Magazine last year. “Suddenly, I received a phone call from the squadron and was told to come as soon as possible. Of course, I left immediately and then we received notice of the accident. The next step, after we understood what had happened, was to plan the next days. We sent groups to notify the families and planned on-call shifts. We realized that the squadron is at the heart of a very complex event and that’s why there was so much work”, says Brigadier General Barki. “It was like thunder on a clear day. But we needed to remember that life goes on. The demands for CH-53 missions in Lebanon, rescues and evacuations, launching missions, all those continued”.

Returning to the Skies

Aside from the rescues and evacuations, the squadron faced a complex mission: picking up the pieces. “At the end of the day, many friends were killed on this event”, explains Brigadier General Barki. “One of the largest challenges that stand before a leader of a squadron through hard times is returning it to renewed capacity. Returning to fly, for example, is a very complicated event. It needs to be done carefully, but clearly and decisively also, because our job as an aerial crew is to carry out our missions. We can’t put that aside”.

Lieutenant Colonel A’ also supported this approach. Four days after the accident, he invited the people of the squadron to his home. “We talked and strengthened each other and returned to the skies the next day. In the beginning we conducted brief and simple flights that all members of the squadron participated in with no exceptions”, he said. “I felt that people needed to be part of a collective force, that they needed to prove to themselves that the helicopter continues to fly, that it’s a good aircraft like we always knew and that it had not done us a disservice. There’s no other way to bring back that feeling of stability and security”.