Tzukit plane of the type that crashed
Tzukit plane of the type that crashed Ofer Zidon /Flash90

Following Tuesday’s tragic incident in which a light airplane crashed in southern Israel, killing the two people on board, the IDF has appointed a senior army officer and fighter pilot to head a panel of experts to investigate the circumstances of the crash.

Major (Res.) Itay Zayden, aged 42, from Kibbutz Shoval, who was the flight instructor for this particular training flight, served until recently as the commander of an F-16 squadron. The cadet he was training, 19-year-old Corporal Lihu Ben-Bassa, started his pilot's course just four months ago. He leaves behind twin brother who is currently serving in the IDF.

Brigadier General (Res.) Yisrael Shapir, former commander of the Air Force flight school, spoke with Radio 103FM on Tuesday, and noted that training flights have been suspended in the wake of the incident. He related that immediately following the crash, the current commander of the Air Force, Major General Amikam Norkin, convened all those involved and ordered all training flights to cease until further notice.

Regular operational activity in the Air Force continues as normal, Shapir added, “and training flights will probably resume either tomorrow or the day after.”

Responding to the tragedy, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “This was a serious accident that took a heavy toll on us. I would like to send my condolences to the families. The IDF will do everything possible to conduct a full investigation of the incident and draw the necessary conclusions.” Gantz has already spoken with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, who updated him on the results of the preliminary investigation.

Another former commander of the Air Force, Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, expressed his personal opinion that the crash was probably the result of either a malfunction with the plane’s rudders or a defect in the structure of the craft itself.

“The crew did not issue a distress signal while in mid-flight or provide any other report of malfunction or problem,” he said. “They were flying at a normal altitude, at a height from which a rescue could have been effected if they saw a problematic situation developing. The fact that they didn’t make any attempt to signal their distress indicates that whatever happened, happened very suddenly. The impact of the crash was extreme, meaning that they likely had no time to attempt a softer landing.”

Ben-Eliyahu noted that, “At this stage, it’s impossible to draw conclusions, but it does appear that either the rudders malfunctioned or there was a structural deficit in the aircraft. The rudders in these types of airplanes are connected to the wingtips via hinges, and if these hinges break, the pilot loses the ability to steer the craft. Of course, if there was something wrong with the actual structure of the craft, that too could have caused this tragedy to occur.

“There is one thing can almost certainly be ruled out,” Ben-Eliyahu added. “Major Zayden was a veteran flight instructor with over 25 years of experience, and this particular training flight was a relatively simple one. I would rule out any possibility of a flight error – that doesn’t seem likely – and I would focus the inquiry on something sudden and unexpected that occurred and caused the crash.”