Air and ground action continued in the Mt. Hermon area today after Israeli forces suffered their worst single day casualties yesterday since the Yom Kippur War. A direct hit scored by Syrian gunners killed eight Israeli soldiers and wounded seven as they alighted from armored vehicles near the summit of Mt. Hermon. A medical rescue helicopter sent in to evacuate the wounded crashed, killing all six men aboard. A second helicopter landed safely and removed the wounded to Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
The victims of yesterday’s shell burst and helicopter crash were identified today. They are: Maj. Ahikam Avni, 32, a medical doctor of Tel Hashomer; Capt. Levi Golan, 28, of Petah Tikva; Lt. Amir Amitt, 32, of Ekron; 2nd Lt. Ami Stein-berger, 21, of Givatayim; Staff Sgt. Yaacov Rol, 28, of Petah Tikva; St. Jaacov Bernheimm, 23, of Tel Aviv; Sgt. Meir Rosenstreich, 23, of Ramat Gan; Sgt. Menahem Shulmann, 21, of Tel Aviv; Cpl. Avishai Rahamim, 20, of Jerusalem; Cpl Michael Reifer, 21, of Yokne’Am; Pvt. Daniel Daniel, 19, of Tiberias; Pvt. Yaacov Sadi, 20, of Yahud; Pvt. Milo Ben Shemen, 20, of Hod Hasharon; and Pvt. Uri Shemesh, 19, of Ramat Gan.
Air Force Commander Gen. Benjamin Peled has ordered an investigation into yesterday’s helicopter crash on Mt. Hermon, the second fatal crash of an Israeli helicopter in less than two weeks. Chief of Staff Gen. Mordecai Gur, referring to the loss of 14 men and the wounding of seven yesterday said it was simply an “unlucky day,” and not an escalation of the war.
According to military sources, the Syrian shelling of the Mt. Hermon positions yesterday had been less intense than on previous days. The direct hit which claimed eight lives may have been scored by Syrian 120 mm. mortars positioned on the Lebanese side of Mt. Hermon where the Syrians are known to have stationed a number of their units. The Syrians managed to zero in on an Israeli unit just as the men were jumping from their armored troop carriers and the fatal shell exploded in their midst.
EXPLODED IN A BALL OF FLAME
According to eye witnesses, the rescue helicopter had difficulty maneuvering for a landing because of bad weather conditions, poor visibility near the 9200-foot summit of the mountain and Syrian shell fire. As the aircraft hovered overhead, the medical crew asked ground forces by radio how many wounded there were to be evacuated.
The helicopter pilot radioed his base that contact had been made and he was about to land. A few seconds later the tail of the helicopter struck a rock and the aircraft exploded in a ball of flame and crashed, instantly killing all six aboard. Eye witnesses agreed that the copter was not hit by a Syrian shell.
The wounded men evacuated by the second helicopter were visited at the hospital today by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Gur. On April 19, an army helicopter crashed while attempting to land at Safad, killing all eight men aboard.
At a press conference here last night, the Chief of Staff stressed the strategic importance of Mt. Hermon for Israel and said “I assume the same goes for the Syrians. We are prepared to face any Syrian attempt to capture it.” Gur said. He would not comment on press reports that the Syrians have massed 13,000 soldiers, including an elite force of commandos, for a major assault on the mountain. But he said Israeli forces were taking “all necessary measures” to meet any Syrian assault.
SYRIANS ABANDON POSITIONS ON HERMON SLOPES
In today’s fighting, Israeli Air Force jets pounded Syrian targets in the Mt. Hermon area and in the southern section of the Yom Kippur War enclave after Syrian artillery opened fire on Israeli positions. All Israeli planes returned safely to their bases, a military spokesman reported. Two Syrian MIGs staged a hit-and-run attack on Israeli positions on Mt. Hermon this afternoon. The Syrian jets made a single run, dropped their bombs and disappeared behind Syrian lines before Israeli fighters could make contact with them. There were no Israeli casualties.
An Israeli patrol killed two Syrian soldiers in a close-quarters skirmish near the peak of Mt. Hermon last night. Syrian forces have reportedly evacuated positions on the northeast slopes of Mt. Hermon about 200 yards below the summit. The positions had come under heavy Israeli air and artillery attack and apparently were considered untenable by the Syrians because of their inability to complete a supply road up the mountain. The Syrian road-building equipment has been systematically destroyed by Israeli air attacks.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.