image Photo: IDF

IDF joins rescue efforts for deadly Sinai helicopter crash

A helicopter with the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula crashed on Thursday near the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing 8 people on Thursday — 6 Americans, a French national and a Czech citizen, the force said.

Israel immediately offered its assistance to the multinational observers.

“An IDF helicopter carrying elite search and rescue soldiers… evacuated an injured American MFO peacekeeper to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment,” the Israeli military said.

The MFO confirmed that one American MFO member survived and had been evacuated to Israel’s Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

According to a statement sent to TV7, Israeli Alternate Premier and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “On behalf of the State of Israel, I share my deepest sympathies to the families and countries of the peacekeepers who lost their lives today in a helicopter crash in Sinai, while bravely protecting the stability, security, and peace of our region. Our thoughts are with their families in the U.S., France, and Czech Republic, and our hopes for a quick and full recovery to the injured soldier being treated at Soroka Hospital.”

“My deepest condolences to the eight families who are mourning the loss of their loved ones today in the US, France and Czechia,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, adding, “Their loss is a tragedy. My prayers for the full and swift recovery of the survivor.”

The IDF post a message on its official Twitter account, sending “condolences to the families of the Multinational Force & Observers (MFO) personnel from @USNationalGuard, @armeedeterre & @ArmadaCR who died in a helicopter crash today. This event is a tragedy for the MFO, who work to promote stability between Israel & Egypt.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also issued condolences to the families of the victims in a Tweet sent by an official spokesperson, which emphasized that “security and stability in the region is extremely important.”

US President-elect Joe Biden also issued a statement: “I extend my deep condolences to the loved ones of the peacekeepers… and wish a speedy recovery to the surviving American. I join all Americans in honoring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers.”

The MFO said that a thorough investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of why the helicopter was downed, stressing that, “At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident” during “a routine mission in the vicinity of Sharm el-Sheikh.”

An official briefed on the incident, who could not be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters it was an accident caused by mechanical failure.

A statement from the Czech Defence Ministry said that “the cause of the crash was a technical defect,” and identified the Czech victim as Sergeant Michaela Ticha, born in 1993. Chief-of-Staff of the Czech military Ales Opata tweeted, “I am terribly sorry. You can never get ready for some things. Condolences to her family.”

Jerusalem and Cairo agreed to set up the MFO as a means to monitor the demilitarization of the Sinai under their historic 1979 peace accord. The force receives funding from Israel, the U.S. and Egypt.

Even though Israel and Egypt previous opposed proposals by Washington to reduce U.S. participation in the MFO, the force has decreased in size in recent years as the neighboring countries tightened security cooperation against Islamist-led Sinai insurgents. The MFO website lists some 452 Americans among the force’s 1,154 military personnel from 13 countries, including Australia and Canada and France. The force’s website lists only one French member in its contingent, a liaison officer.

Egypt has been battling insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State group in the northern sector of in the Sinai. The MFO crash occurred in the southern territory of the Peninsula near Red Sea resort cities. Egyptian officials from the South Sinai governor’s office would not provide further details to AFP on the exact crash site, nor would the MFO.

According to official Egyptian military data, more than 930 suspected militants have been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel since a nationwide operation against the militants was launched in February 2018 centered on North Sinai.