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7 Soldiers Presumed Dead in Israeli Helicopter Crash

Six Israeli soldiers and one Romanian are missing and presumed dead in an air crash during a military exercise in Europe.

An Israeli military helicopter crashed into the mountains during a training mission in Romania and burst into flames in a remote area. The air force says the chopper was flying at a low altitude when it disappeared.

The crash occurred during an 11-day joint Israeli-Romanian exercise dealing with search and rescue missions in rough terrain. A Romanian officer and six Israeli soldiers were on board, including four pilots and two aerial mechanics.

Brigadier-General Nimrod Sheffer, the chief of staff of the Israeli Air Force, said the airmen were experienced professionals in both training missions and combat. He told Israel Radio that it is too early to determine the cause of the crash.

Sheffer said the air force is considering every possibility, from human error to bad weather to a technical malfunction.

Some analysts suggest that the problem lies with the model of the helicopter. They say the American-made Sikorsky CH-53 has been in the Israeli Air Force for 40 years and should have been replaced. But Sheffer disagreed.

The general said the Sea Stallion, as it is called, is one of the best military helicopters in the world and that it has been fully upgraded into a modern aircraft that is as good as new.

The air force is the pride of the Israeli military, so it is a sad day in Israel. In a small country of seven million people, the loss of the airmen is seen as a national tragedy.