Pilots distressed by F-16 cancer probe|
Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 25, 2008
Pilots were up in arms on Monday over what they called "delays" in the Israel
Air Force's handling of the crisis that erupted in the elite military branch
over the weekend with the discovery of carcinogenic material in one of Israel's
most advanced F-16I fighter jets.
Col. Erez Barnboim, the IAF's chief medical officer, said Monday that it was
likely there were pilots who were exposed to formaldehyde in high concentration.
IDF sources said that hundreds of pilots have flown the F-16I in recent years
and might have been exposed to the carcinogenic material.
"Formaldehyde can cause cancer and as doctors we are therefore obligated to
update people that may have been exposed to it," Barnboim said. "We so far do
not know of anyone who is sick, but we will continue to closely watch them
(pilots and technical personnel) and we won't stop until we are sure that
everyone is fine."
On Friday, IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy decided to ground all F-16I
training flights after formaldehyde was found in the cockpit of one of the
aircraft. Shkedy made the decision to suspend training flights - the plane will
continue to be used in necessary operations - after a number of pilots
complained of a bad smell coming from the cockpit of one of the planes.
The IDF Medical Branch conducted tests and discovered that the smell was
caused by a type of formaldehyde known to be carcinogenic in high concentration.
On Sunday night, Shkedy met with the all of the IAF's F-16I pilots and
pledged that the IDF would do everything possible to discover the cause of the
flaw. "I take this very seriously and we will not spare any resources to
understand the issue and treat it appropriately in the short and long term,"
A senior officer who attended the meeting said Monday that the pilots were
"deeply disturbed" by what they heard from Shkedy and asked "difficult and
"It was a difficult meeting that did not go over as well as planned," the
A team of IAF technical personnel, their American counterparts and the
plane's manufacturer - Lockheed Martin - has been set up to investigate the
incident. Sources indicated Monday that the source of the formaldehyde was
likely the F-16I air conditioning system, since the carcinogenic material is a
known by-product of jet engine exhaust.
While the incident appears to be isolated to one plane, Shkedy's decision to
ground F-16I training flights has raised eyebrows around the world.
Soke 4,000 F-16s have been manufactured since production in the US began in
1976 and it is considered one of the most-sold fighter jets in existence today.
The variant that Israel has, called the F-16I, is also in operation in
Singapore, Poland, Greece and the US. Israel has been receiving about two planes
a month since 2004 and is expected to receive the complete 102 it has ordered by
the end of the year.
Defense officials said Monday that Shkedy's decision to ground the training
flights was indicative of just how severe the case was and how concerned the IAF
is that its pilots may have been exposed to a high concentration of carcinogenic
"This is the most advanced fighter jet in Israel's arsenal today and when
there is a problem with it, people take interest," a defense official said on
From an operational perspective, the decision to ground the training flights
does not immediately affect the IAF, which continues to use the jets for
operations, mainly in the Gaza Strip.
"Pilots are familiar with the plane and a short break will not change that,"
the official said.
Original article: Jerusalem Post
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