Israel mourns soldiers killed in air crash
February 5, 1997
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EST (1800 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A sorrowful nation prepared Wednesday to
bury 73 Israeli soldiers killed in the crash of two military
helicopters in northern Israel.
Israel has not mourned so many dead since its 1982 war in
Lebanon. Funerals will be held over the next few days in
Israel, and the entire nation is in mourning until Thursday
The soldiers were killed Tuesday when their CH-53 Sikorsky
transport helicopters collided in darkness as they were on
their way to the Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon.
It was the country's worst military aircraft disaster.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a meeting with
Jordan's King Hussein scheduled for Wednesday and a meeting
with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat set for Thursday.
to the nation and praised the
soldiers who risk their lives in defense of Israel.
"This is a tragedy, a burden that is difficult to sustain,"
he said in a televised address. "We have lost tens of our
best and bravest soldiers. ... Our thoughts are with the
families, in the hope that we shall know no more grief."
Netanyahu visited the crash site, noting that "our quest for
peace involves constant sacrifices" as he watched the
In the Knesset, Israeli parliament members stood in silence
for the victims of the tragedy, and across the country flags
were lowered to half-staff.
Netanyahu defends Israeli involvement in Lebanon
Rescue workers were still recovering bodies and charred
pieces of equipment Wednesday morning. One of the helicopters
fell near a vacant summer cottage, and the other crashed into
a cemetery. Munitions aboard the helicopters set off a series
There were no casualties on the ground.
Although the weather in the area was bad at the time of the
crash, sources told CNN that it was not believed to be the
cause. An investigation was under way by a inquiry committee
set up by Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai. The panel is
expected to explore the possibility of human error.
More than 200 Israeli soldiers have died in southern Lebanon
since Israel established the security zone there in 1985. But
Netanyahu defended Israel's involvement, telling reporters at
the crash site that the people of northern Israel "know
better than any how these soldiers and heroic commanders take
risks" to protect them.
"We are not going to be deterred, and we are not going to
relent," the prime minister said. "We shall defend our
country. We shall reduce the risk. Ultimately, we shall
achieve peace, too."
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers contributed to this
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