JERUSALEM (AP) _ The bodies of an Israeli air force general and a crewman who were killed in a helicopter crash have been recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, the army said today.

Brig. Gen. Tal Shmuel Eldar, 45, was one of the highest-ranking Israeli air force officers ever to be killed in a military air accident, according to the army.

A 20-year-old second lieutenant, Ilan Gur, also died in Sunday's crash. The brigadier general was flying as a trainer for the younger pilot in an American-manufactured Cobra attack helicopter.

The pilot of another helicopter flying nearby said he initially saw the Cobra's tail shaking. Then it suddenly swerved hard, lost speed and ``fell apart,'' he said on Israel TV.

The tail broke off and hit the rotor before plummeting about 3,000 feet into the sea.

Before the chopper broke up, Eldar had radioed a report about the tail shaking but said the situation was under control. A nearby airfield was preparing for an emergency landing.

It was not yet known what caused the craft's failure. The air force was investigating, and temporarily grounded its entire Cobra fleet.

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

Army radio said the high-altitude breakup occurred about 15 miles north of Tel Aviv, off Kibbutz Gash. The chopper was headed for Palmachim air force base, 10 miles south of Tel Aviv, where Eldar was base commander.

Israeli navy boats and helicopters combed the area for hours after the crash. The wreckage was in water 90 feet deep.

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