Investigators of the Israel Defense Forces have determined that human error was behind the crash of an F-16 fighter jet on February 10 during a mission over Syria, and not the missiles being fired by Syrian anti-aircraft defense batteries.
“Between the tension of completing the mission while facing enemy missiles the crew made an operational mistake which did not match the order of priorities required by the threat it was facing,” said a senior Israel Air Force officer on Sunday.
“The moment there is a missile threat they should have set aside the mission to address the threat. Someone else would have fired at the target.”
A total of 27 anti-aircraft missiles were fired by Syrian defense forces at the eight Israeli Air Force pilots who were flying the mission in response to the infiltration of an Iranian military drone into Israeli air space.
One of the missiles locked on to a second fighter jet among the eight warplanes in formation but that aircraft was able to evade the missile.
The warning systems on the F-16 that crashed did work as required, and the pilot was informed in time but did not succeed in evading the missile. Once his plane was hit by the SA-5 missile, however, the pilot made the correct decision to eject together with the navigator.
The transcript of the debrief with the pilots leaked to Channel 2 News quoted them as telling their commander, “We were very focused on the mission. Then there was an explosion and we understood we were hit; it is a very uncomfortable feeling, the loss of control. There is no long process and also there is no time. A few seconds. The understanding that we need to quickly eject, as a result of the physical damage to us and also as a result of the damage to the plane that ceased to function.
“We were extremely lucky. The missile exploded close to the plane and the force of the explosion could have killed us. The missile exploded at a certain distance from the plane and its shrapnel did enough damage to the plane,” they said.
Both airmen have been discharged from the hospital, with the navigator having already returned to service and flown his first practice flight with IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin. The pilot, who was seriously injured, is completing his recovery at home and will also return to full operational duty.
This is the first time a fighter jet was lost by Israel in combat in 30 years; however, Norkin underlined in the summary of his investigation that the crash is “an opportunity for the IAF.”
The commander pointed out that an “in-depth investigation reflects the learning at all levels, both at headquarters and in the field, and it will make the IAF better.”