The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) fleet of Apache helicopters will return to service in the coming weeks, after it was grounded following a fatal crash a month and a half earlier in which one pilot died and a second was wounded.
The announcement was made after a new interim report on the cause of the August 7 crash which resulted in the death of Maj (resc) David Zohar and a severe injury of his copilot, a lieutenant on active duty. According to the investigation, the crash was caused by a steering problem. The head of the Air Force’s Safety and Quality Assurance Department, Colonel Yoav, stated that one of the joysticks leading to the tail rotor disconnected as a result of a malfunction caused by poor installation and aggravated by an extended period of it weakening.
“It can be likened to a car ride, while you realize that there is a malfunction in the steering wheel and the vehicle turns only to the left and not to the right. The team was forced for six minutes, from the moment the malfunction was discovered to the moment of the crash, to cope with a high physical load as well as an extreme situation, and yet they managed to bring the helicopter to the base,” he said.
According to Colonel Yoav, the malfunction was an extremely rare case. The investigation detected gaps in the installation guidelines for the joysticks which are installed in Israel after arriving from Boeing. Since there is no suspicion of negligence, the investigation will focus on why the problem was not detected during the usual check-ups, and whether the defect is detectable at all.
There was a somewhat similar case in 2007 involving a US military helicopter in Afghanistan. However, it occurred under different circumstances and was in a different version of the Apache.
In the aftermath of the Apache crash, one of the first questions raised was whether it was caused by the same rotor problem that had grounded the fleet of Apaches earlier. In June, the entire fleet of Apache helicopters was grounded after a technician found a crack in the blade of one of the helicopters during a routine maintenance check. An extensive investigation ensued which resulted in a second crack being discovered in the original helicopter which had developed due to fatigue. The IAF therefore decided to shorten the life of the blades by 80%, from 4,600 hours to 995 flight hours.
The problem was not found to be widespread, and the Apache fleet began to return to service in July after the investigation was completed. The Apache that crashed was part of that process.
After the June grounding of the Apache fleet, the helicopters were inspected for damage, yet the issue that would cause the steering malfunction in August was not discovered.