Three organisers at a pre-army training centre have been arrested after ten Israeli teenagers died in flash floods last Thursday while hiking south of the Dead Sea.
Rescue workers on site at Nahal Tzafit said the victims, eight of whom were women, were all aged 18. They were named as Ella Or, Gali Balel, Agam Levi, Shani Samir, Adi Ra’anan, Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhum, Romi Cohen and Tzur Alfi.
Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz this week reported that one staff member at the Bnei Zion pre-military academy had warned about the adverse weather conditions before the hike and suggested it be cancelled.
On Friday, Yuval Kahan, the head of the seminar, was arrested for alleged negligent manslaughter for his decision to continue with the trip, despite the harsh weather conditions. Aviv Bardichev, a fellow staff member, was also arrested.
Amid questions and anger from parents, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the 25 students had been “caught off guard,” with some were “washed away” by the heavy rains, which had been falling for two days.
The Dead Sea is the world’s lowest point, at about 1,400 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by desert and arid cliffs, meaning that rain can come rushing down the steep descents, causing sudden and violent torrents in otherwise dry spots.
It also emerged that one of the young women who died expressed “serious” concern in a WhatsApp message before setting off.
The Israel Television News Company reported that she wrote: “I can’t believe I’m actually going hiking in weather like this. It doesn’t make sense to go to a place that’s completely flooded. It’s tempting fate. We’re going to die – I’m serious.”
The flash floods also claimed the lives of four other youngsters in a different area. On Friday, rescuers recovered the bodies of Yazen Mohammad Asrahana, 10, and Ahmed Samich Asrahana, 9, who were found in a reservoir near the El-Fuwar refugee camp south of Hebron. A day earlier a 16-year old died in the Negev and a 17-year old Palestinian girl was swept away near Bethlehem
Police and army helicopters and drones were forced to suspend their search and rescue operation owing to the conditions. Officers were still looking for 47-year old truck driver and father-of-four Ayman Jaber, who is feared to have been swept by flood-waters across the border into Jordan.
Adding to the obstacles facing rescuers is that some flooding occurred over minefields, with military experts called in to help.