Lt. Col. Noam Ron (left) and Maj. Erez Flekser.
Two Israel Air Force pilots were killed overnight Monday when a Cobra helicopter crashed during a training exercise near the city of Gedera, in central Israel. The two pilots, both reservists, were identified as Lt. Col. Noam Ron, 49, of Oranit, and Maj. Erez Flekser, 31, of Haifa.
Ron was married with three daughters, one of whom is training to be an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. Ron's brother, also a helicopter pilot, was killed 16 years ago in an abseiling accident. Noam performed a huge amount of reserve duty, another brother told Army Radio.
"He protected us from our enemies; he did a lot for the security of the state," the brother said. "He loved flying. Since childhood he excelled in math and physics. He was the best of the best in the squadron, extremely talented and skilled."
Flekser was married and was studying physics at Tel Aviv University, where he excelled in his studies. His friends said he was introverted but loved sports and was an avid swimmer.
Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel has ordered an immediate investigation into accident. He has also grounded all Cobra helicopters until the circumstances surrounding the crash become clear.
An initial investigation appeared to indicate that the helicopter crashed because of a technical failure.
Ground forces lost contact with the two pilots around 1 a.m. as the helicopter was on its way back to the Palmahim Air Force Base from a training flight. A large rescue team, including helicopters, unmanned aircraft, homefront ground forces, emergency medical technicians and border police officers, spent much of the night searching for the missing helicopter. The crash site was found at around 5:15 a.m.
"Six minutes to landing, headed toward Palmahim," was the last communication from the helicopter before it crashed.
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An IAF Cobra helicopter mid-flight during a training mission.