20-year-old Israel Defense Forces officer, Hila Betzaleli, was killed, and at least 5 other officers were injured, on Wednesday after a steel lighting rig collapsed above a stage on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Dozens of people were participating in a rehearsal for an Independence Day ceremony, due to take place next week, when the rig collapsed, killing Second Lieutenant Betzaleli. One person was moderately injured, and four others lightly hurt.
Jerusalem District Police said they have opened an investigation into the incident.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said later on Wednesday that despite the grief and the hurt caused by the incident, Holocaust Day and Independence Day ceremonies would still go ahead.
Eye witnesses say they saw the rig - a large bridge-like structure, between 15 and 20 meters in height that crosses the entire area where rehearsals for the ceremony were taking place - shaking, and then falling.
Emergency rescue services arrived on the scene, and according to the Magen David Adom spokesperson, the rig that holds the lighting and sound system fell during rehearsals for the ceremony.
Two of the people who were lightly injured were taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, a further two were taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. Those lightly injured were mainly suffering from limb injuries. One more person who was moderately injured was suffering from a head injury, and was taken to Hadassah University Hospital.
Head of Jerusalem paramedic services, Mordechai Ben, said, “We found few injured people, but we had to treat them for a long time.”
“Most of them had orthopedic trauma wounds. One had a head injury, one suffering multiple injuries, who was later pronounced dead. One of the soldiers here told me that she asked him to get her a glass of water. He went to give her the water and a moment later everything crashed.”
Yaakov Gispen, the manager of the Mount Herzl site said that the mother of the soldier who was killed is his assistant, and that the IDF officer, from a four-child Mevasseret Zion family, was serving in the Home Front Command.
He said that she was proud to be participating in the preparations for the ceremony at Mount Herzl, especially as her mother was working there. He said that the mother arrived very quickly to help her, she did not see her daughter on the scene, but understood that she had been killed.
Some of those involved in running the Mount Herzl ceremony said on Wednesday that strong winds at the site had almost caused disasters of this kind in the past. In one earlier incident, the stage was tied to military Jeeps to stop it being blown away by strong winds.
“The bridge is not meant to collapse because of the kind of winds that were blowing today. If it turns out that the wind caused the tragedy, it will turn out to be an oversight that could have been avoided if lessons had been learned from the past,” the sources said.
'There was chaos'
One ZAKA volunteer, Nati Giutan said, “I live close. I was one of the first to arrive on the scene. There was chaos, people were running around all over the place. The lighting rig collapsed in the center of the area.”
The volunteer treated one woman who was injured - apparently a head injury – and who was then transferred to hospital.
Zvi David, another volunteer, said, “I arrived at Mount Herzl and saw that three people were injured after the stage collapsed. I started attempting to resuscitate one of the injured people, whose death was regrettably confirmed later. Then more medics arrived and treated other injured people.”
Or Argemand, a high school student who was at the site to watch the rehearsals with his class, told Haaretz, “We saw the lighting moved a bit. I told my friends ‘this is going to fall.’ They said ‘there’s no way.’ Three minutes later the rig is starting to collapse. It happened slowly, not quickly,” he said.
He also said that, “Before that the soldiers’ commander went up to observation point from the exit, to see whether the soldiers where arranged in the shape of a menorah, and then everything started to fall. Because it happened slowly, most of the participants managed to flee the scene, but some didn’t - and they were injured.”
“The one was killed, two huge columns [from the rig], fell on her. She shouted and put her hands on her neck to protect herself, when two columns fell on her back. Columns fell on another soldier’s stomach,” he said.
The student says he and his classmates ran toward the injured and did not manage to move the columns. “I was stressed, I called Magen David Adom. Within seconds - I hadn’t even managed to hang up the phone - and fifty ambulances arrived.”
Border Police, Israel Police and firefighters then also arrived on the scene in order to move the metal columns of the rig, the student said, adding, “I’ve never seen anything like it."
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