On February 4th, 1997, two Israel Defense Forces CH-53 Yasur military transport helicopters crashed into each other in the middle of the night while carrying troops and goods to the IDF-controlled Southern Lebanese security strip. In the worst disaster to ever happen within the Israeli Airforce, and one of the deadliest helicopter collisions in the world, all 73 military personnel on the helicopters, including eight crew members were killed. The event was marked as a tragedy and the government declared the date a mourning day.
The mission was postponed from the previous day due to choppy weather and heavy rains, but as the fog cleared in the afternoon, the helicopters were allowed to take off. The two helicopters stopped around Rosh Pina to pick up the troops and then were both supposed to continue to two different military outposts in Lebanon.
As most of you know, my commitment to Israel is grounded in my family's service and sacrifice. Today, sadly, marks the 24th year of the helicopter crash that killed my cousin Emile Azoulay and 73 other commandos 24 years ago. To all the brave Israeli defenders, I salute you. pic.twitter.com/ofMZQFR9nq— Avi Abraham Benlolo (@AviBenlolo) February 4, 2021
Those were the days in which the IDF was operating almost daily in Southern Lebanon. The arrival of the troops to the outposts was usually in armored vehicle convoys, which were an easy target for terrorist ambushes and for hitting mines planted by Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the area. One of the ways suggested to transport soldiers in a safer way was to fly in helicopters and avoid dangerous roads.
A government commission that was assigned to investigate the disaster failed to establish any concrete cause, but it ruled out any mechanical failure in the helicopters and found no evidence of the pilots being impaired whatsoever. The unsolved case remains mysterious and raised many suspicions by the Israeli public who had a difficult nature of such a tragic human mistake. There are some conspiracy theories that still revolve around the collision, including a possible terrorist attack that has gone unreported by Israeli authorities to this day.
There’s nothing like spending a Saturday with my Emirati🇦🇪 friend here in Israel and getting to know the history of Israel at the Helicopter crash disaster Memorial, the memorial of 73 IDF fallen soldiers near a helicopter crash site next to the cemetery of kibbutz Dafna 🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/KZFFaCszSH— Lorena Khateeb | لورينا خطيب (@kh_lorena) January 15, 2022
The Nahal and Golani infantry brigades and the Armored Corps tank operating troops were among the units that lost soldiers in the crash. All sectors of Israeli society were represented in the crash, including, Muslim-Israelis, Druze, secular and Orthodox Jews.
The disaster had such an impact on the Israeli public and the IDF, that it actually become yet another consideration against Israel’s presence within Lebanon, along with the amount of wounded and killed IDF soldiers in the extremely hostile region. Israel would fully withdraw from Lebanon in 2000, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s orders.