“We’ve never dealt with this many planes before, the cooperation is simply exceptional”, said the Commander of the Israeli Air Force from the command center at the University of Haifa. The firefighting teams from air forces around the world have greatly contributed to the efforts to extinguish the fire in northern Israel. The IAF continues to receive, host, and coordinate the activities of crews from around the world
Tal Michael and Yael Harari
Planes and helicopters from Spain, Russia, Greece, Croatia, France, Britain, Holland, Cyprus, and the USA arrived throughout the weekend with the equipment, experience, and knowledge to help put out the fire in northern Israel that continues now for three days.
The Ramat David, Tel Nof, Nevatim, and Technical bases of the IAF have received the crews and are handling all aspects of their technical and administrative needs. Commander of the IAF, Maj. Gen. Ido Nehushtan, personally greeted the Russian crews upon their arrival to the Tel Nof base. “We began operations in the air very early this morning and I hope that we will succeed in bringing a turning point to the firefighting efforts. The Russian pilots are very experienced in fighting these types of fires and I have no doubt that the ‘Ilyushin 76’ aircraft is a major addition to our capabilities”, said Maj. Gen. Nehushtan. The “Ilyushin 76” aircraft is a large firefighting plane that landed in Israel and is able to carry 42 tons of water and release it all from the air in only seven seconds.
The maintenance squadron of the Tel Nof base quickly learned the necessary information about fixing and repairing the Russian plane and got organized for its arrival to the base where there are no transport planes or such heavy planes.
Yesterday morning, the base received an inventory of water containers designed for firefighting. Loading the plane with water takes 45 minutes to one hour. The technical crews on the base are working efficiently between sorties in order to send off as many flights each day as possible before darkness falls. Starting from the early hours of the morning, planes began flying sorties over the Carmel mountains.
General Pavel Plat, Deputy Minister for the Russian Civil Defense, Emergency and Disaster Relief arrived in Israel to lead the Russian delegation. He said that the Russian delegation planned to help fight the fire in the Carmel. The General added that three Russian planes had already landed in Israel and another three would land soon. “We are willing to work 24 hours a day if it is necessary”, said the Russian General.
Hezi Levi, a spokesperson for the Haifa Fire Fighting Department said that “the cooperation and coordination with the IAF is simply incredible. The officers of the IAF that are working here to organize the activities in the air are working at a rare level of professionalism. The air support, together with the centralized command, is wonderful. The activities in the air are coordinated directly with the fire fighting actions on the ground and we are working closely in order to ensure that no action in the air threatens the crews on the ground.
Throughout the coming days, it is anticipated that more aircraft will arrive to Israel, bringing the total number of fire fighting planes flying over the Carmel area to over 40 planes from Spain, Russia, France, USA, Croatia, and Britain. The Commander of the IAF said yesterday that it is “the mission of the IAF to provide the most efficient and effective support and coordination to all aircraft that can work in the small area of operation over the Carmel. Foreign aid is an important link between countries and Israel knows well how to send delegations of aid to areas of risk throughout the world. As such, we are happy to receive squadrons from around the world that have arrived with such high motivation to put out the fire”.
Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, said that the IAF is exerting all its efforts and testing the limits of their operational capabilities at night. The IAF is already examining the possibility of putting together a squadron of fire fighting planes following the request of Prime Minister Netanyahu.