Monday, July 26th 2010. Reports of an IAF CH-53 Sikorsky helicopter with which contact was lost during practice in Romania stirred an ominous feeling. As time went on, the picture became clear along with the pain of knowing that the flight crew was tragically killed in the accident.
The training session last year was planned in advance, one of tens of sessions that the IAF has lead in the past few years with foreign air forces, in the Israeli skies and far from them. The Sikorsky squadrons, which have been training in Romania for the previous six years, returned again to practice flying in tall mountainous areas, through unfamiliar territory. Three days before the end of the training session, catastrophe ensued. Two Sikorsky helicopters from the ‘Nocturnal Birds" squadron took off in the afternoon hours from the Romanian Airbase and flew west, toward the Carpathian Mountains. They entered thick fog and at one point one of them impacted a side of the mountain and crashed.
Slightly over a year after the accident in the Carpathian Mountains, the bereaved families of Colonel Daniel Shipenbauer, Lieutenant Colonel Avner Goldman, Major Yahel Keshet, Major Lior Shai, Lieutenant Nir Lakrif, and Staff Sergeant Oren Cohen will leave for Romania at the start of the next week.
Parents, wives, siblings and children, Members of the Sikorsky squadron, individual platoons and people of the Department of Casualties will arrive to see up close where they lost their dear ones and to consecrate a monument facing the mountain, which will bear the Hebrew names of the casualties.
The grievous journey will begin at a small village called ‘Poiana Mara', in which Romanian Observer Stefan-Claudiu Dragnea who joined the Sikorsky flight last year is buried. The funeral home will host a memorial service with his widow, parents and siblings. Later in the journey, the families will make the long trip to the accident site, at which they will consecrate the stone monument.
Commander of the Romanian Air Force will welcome the Commander of the IAF, Major General Ido Nehushtan who will head the delegation and personally accompany the families' journey. Commander of Tel Nof Airbase, Brigadier General Amikam Norkin and Head of the Helicopter Formation, Brigadier General David Barki will also accompany the families on the trip.
The initiative for the trip to Romania came from the IAF and required much assistance from the Romanian side. "The Romanians are cooperating with us and are presenting an unusual will to help us and treat the IAF specially", Says Colonel Ronit, who returned from a Romanian tour last month in preparation for the families' trip. "Usually, when a soldier is killed, the army tries to bring the family to the location at which he or her died", she tells. "We thought that these families deserve to see the closest place to which their dear ones died. The families, on their part, are very emotional, grateful and appreciative of the Force for this journey".