Air force acts to halt copter accidents

JERUSALEM — Israeli air force officials say they are already taking steps to avert potential disasters like the helicopter collision two weeks ago that was the worst military mishap in Israeli history.

The Feb. 4 midair collision over northern Israel killed all 73 soldiers and crew aboard.

A commission on inquiry, appointed immediately after the crash, submitted its interim findings Friday of last week.

While the commission "cannot as yet identify the cause of the accident," the report said, it ruled out bad weather conditions as a possible factor.

The commission, headed by former Defense Ministry Director-General David Ivri, made several recommendations for changes in procedures regarding flights transporting troops into the southern Lebanon security zone.

The report recommended that helicopters fly separately instead of in formation to reduce the chance of collision. It also suggested that the policy of turning off aircraft lights when crossing the border be reexamined.

The commission found that the two pilots were given separate flying orders, but told to coordinate with each other to cross the border. Although both were veteran pilots, neither one was authorized to lead a formation.

A senior air force official was quoted by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz as saying that helicopters already were under orders to fly separately and that new procedures were established to determine under what conditions, if any, the helicopters would turn off their lights.