Military Helicopter Collision Kills 73
Site of the helicopter disaster in southern Lebanon. Photo: Nati Harnik, AP

February 4, 1997

Two CH-53 Yasur military transport helicopters collide in midair in the middle of the night while carrying troops and munitions to the Israeli-occupied zone in southern Lebanon. In the worst air disaster in the Israel Defense Forces’ history, all 73 military personnel on the helicopters, including the eight members of the flight crews, are killed. The event is remembered as Ason HaMasokim (the helicopters disaster).

The mission was postponed from the previous day by bad weather, but fog clears in the afternoon, allowing the flights to proceed. Having flown from Tel Nof to Rosh Pina to pick up the troops, the helicopters are headed to separate landing zones when they collide in northern Israel just before 7 p.m. One chopper crashes at a moshav, Sha’ar Yashuv, while the other hits an open field near a kibbutz, Dafna.

A government commission investigating the disaster fails to establish the cause, but it rules out any mechanical failure in the helicopters and finds no evidence of pilot impairment by drugs or alcohol.

The Nahal and Golani infantry brigades and the Armored Corps are among the units that lose soldiers in the crash. Bedouin, Druze and Jews, secular and religious, are among the men who are killed. The nation mourns them all as the embodiment of Israeli culture.

The disaster is seen as a factor in Israel’s decision to withdraw from the Lebanese security zone in 2000.