Friday, April 23, 2010

Jewish Navy Pilot Dies Protecting His Crew


The plane had blown an engine over the northern Arabian Sea, and the lead pilot, Lt. Miroslav "Steven" Zilberman, had to make lightning-quick decisions.

The E-2C Hawkeye, returning from a mission in Afghanistan, was a few miles out from the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier. Zilberman, 31, was a veteran U.S. Navy pilot who had flown many times in the Middle East with the Hawkeye, a turbo-prop aircraft loaded with radar equipment.

The starboard propeller shut down, causing the plane to become unstable and plunge. Zilberman ordered his three crew mates, including the co-pilot, to bail. He manually held the plane as steady as possible so they could jump.

"He held the plane level for them to do so, despite nearly uncontrollable forces. His three crewmen are alive today because of his actions," Navy Rear Adm. Philip S. Davidson wrote to Zilberman's parents.

Zilberman went down with the aircraft on March 31. The 1997 graduate of Bexley High School was declared dead three days later, his body lost at sea.

The Navy soon will start recovery operations to try to pull the wreckage from the sea, said Lt. Cmdr. Philip R. Rosi II, a public-affairs command officer for the Naval Air Force Atlantic fleet in Norfolk, Va. The crash is being investigated.

Zilberman's last act earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the highest honors the U.S. Navy bestows, Rosi said.

The medal was presented to his wife, Katrina Zilberman, in Norfolk, where she lives with their children, Daniel, 4, and Sarah, 2. A copy of the medal also was given to his parents - Boris Zilberman and his wife, Anna Sokolov - who live in the Eastmoor area of Columbus.

"Now we have unbelievable pain," Sokolov said this week. "He was our one and only son."

After an April 8 memorial service in Norfolk and through conversations with fellow officers and friends, Zilberman's parents have learned how highly regarded their son was.

"He saved three lives. He's a hero," his mother said.

Zilberman was born in Ukraine, and his flight nickname was "Abrek," the name of one of the first two monkeys that flew into outer space for the Soviet Union.

Making a better life for their son was a major reason his parents decided to emigrate from Kiev, Ukraine. They were fearful of living only 90 miles from the leaking nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, and that their son would one day be forced into military service. They joined a wave of Jewish emigrants from the Soviet Union who settled in Columbus in 1991.

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