Near-disaster as paratroopers jump over underflying plane

Transport Ministry report reveals communication failure between IAF control tower and military plane led to near fatal accident.

Mordechai Sones ,

Paratroop jump
Paratroop jump
Flash 90

A disaster almost occurred during a parachuting exercise when a military plane passed through a parachute landing route just as the paratroopers jumped from the plane and opened parachutes. This was revealed in a report by the Transport Ministry which reached Israel Hayom. The mishap occurred last Wednesday, November 1, and the apparent reason was a communication breakdown between the pilots and the control tower.

Details of the incident indicate that a Sky-Van jetliner belonging to the civilian Ayit company and participating in a parachuting exercise of parachute jump instructors transported a cluster of 16 paratroopers. The plane took off as part of a two-plane free landing mission, and when it climbed to 13,000 feet above the parachuting area of Be'er Sheva at the Sde Teman outpost, at the northeastern end of the Hatzerim airbase, the paratroopers jumped off the plane.

At the same time, as the plane entered its second parachute run, a military plane was preparing to land at Hatzerim Air Force Base and requested to land before closing the air space in anticipation of the first plane's second parachute run. The pilot of the civilian plane, from which the paratroopers jumped, reported a "minute until parachuting" and Hatzerim's control tower confirmed the report and asked to divert the military plane to another landing route in the Beit Kama area adjacent to the jump zone.

Due to a misunderstanding, the pilot of the military plane crossed the parachuting zone at its center, dropping from 2,500 feet to 2,000 feet just as eight soldiers in the exercise opened their parachutes. According to the report, the land parachute controller informed the civilian plane pilot that the military plane had crossed over to forbidden area, but the announcement was made too late and the paratroopers were already outside the plane.

An investigation conducted by the Transportation Ministry found that although the incident is grave, it is an isolated incident without precedent. Apparently, the unusual incident resulted from a communication failure between the military aircraft and the control tower of the Hatzerim Air Force base.

The IDF Spokesperson's Office said in response: "The exceptional incident was investigated by the squadron commander and preliminary conclusions were made to improve independence and coordination between the users of the airspace. The investigation of the incident continues and its conclusions will be presented to the corps commanders."