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Israeli General’s Body Recovered

March 16, 1998

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Moments before an Israeli military helicopter blew apart in flight and plummeted into the Mediterranean, the brigadier general piloting the chopper radioed he had the situation under control.

The army said today it had recovered the bodies of Brig. Gen. Tal Shmuel Eldar, 45, one of the highest-ranking Israeli officers ever killed in a military air accident, and 2nd Lt. Ilan Gur, 20. Gur earned his wings less than two months ago.

The explosion occurred Sunday as the U.S.-made Cobra attack helicopter was returning to the air base near Tel Aviv where Eldar was commander after advanced training exercises with another Cobra.

The pilot of the other helicopter said he saw the Cobra’s tail shaking before it suddenly swerved hard, lost speed and ``fell apart.″ He spoke on Israel TV.

The air force grounded its entire Cobra fleet while the accident is under investigation.

Moments before the chopper blew up, Eldar radioed he was having mechanical problems but said he had them under control and requested clearance for an emergency landing.

Even though the watching crew of the second helicopter knew there was almost no chance Gur and Eldar could have survived the explosion and plunge into the sea, they made a desperate attempt at rescue. One of them had been a flight academy classmate with Gur.

They flew low over the sea and the classmate, identified only as 2nd Lt. Assaf, jumped into the water to look for any sign that either man had survived. He found nothing but floating debris.

It was the second Israeli air force accident in two weeks. On March 1, an F-15 fighter crashed during a training flight, killing the pilot and navigator.

Eldar was on the military committee that investigated the crash a year ago of two helicopters carrying troops to Lebanon, which killed 73 soldiers.

Update hourly