Seventy-three Israeli soldiers headed for South Lebanon were killed on February 4, 1997, when two Sikorsky CH-53 transport army helicopters collided in midair. There were no survivors in the worst air force disaster in Israel’s history.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “One of the U.S.-made transport helicopters fell in a fireball on the upper Galilee community of Shaar Yeshuv, setting an empty bungalow ablaze but not causing any casualties on the ground. The other aircraft plunged into a kibbutz cemetery a few hundred yards away.”
“This is the heaviest national tragedy that has ever befallen the Israel Defense Forces,” chief of staff Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said. “We have lost the finest of men who defend the security of the north with their bodies and who had been on their way to carry this out.”
Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said he was asking for an external committee headed by former air force commander David Ivri to investigate the crash.
“The army initially tried to censor news of the accident, as it normally does until families can be notified of military deaths,” according to the Times. But the high toll and the helicopters’ plunging onto civilian areas made secrecy impossible.”
Source: “Air Disaster In Israel 73 Soldiers Killed When Two Helicopters Collide Near Lebanon,” Los Angeles Times, (February 5, 1997).