Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin decided to ground the entire fleet of Sikorsky CH-53 “Yas’ur” heavy-lift transport helicopters, after the engine of one caught fire Tuesday, forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing in southern Israel.
A senior IAF officer said the military was launching a full investigation into the accident to determine what caused the engine fire.
While the helicopter was destroyed in the blaze following the emergency landing, all 14 soldiers who were on board the aircraft – including 11 members of the elite Shaldag commando unit, two pilots, and a mechanic – made it out unscathed.
The senior officer credited the pilots’ quick response with saving the lives of the men on board, landing the aircraft in less than a minute after discovering the fire.
In a bid to modernize its heavy-lift helicopter fleet, the IAF plans to replace its aging Yas’ur helicopters. The two contenders are the CH-53K King Stallion and Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook.