Seven people from a single family were killed last night when a train collided with a minibus carrying yeshiva students and their families on Route 353 near Kibbutz Gat in the south. A number of others were injured and were taken to Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot.
The commander of the Israel Police's Southern District, Yohanan Danino, told Channel 2 that no train passengers were hurt and three were treated for shock.
Initial results from the investigation of the crash suggest that the driver of the minibus drove through a barrier at a level crossing. The operator of the train, which was traveling north, tried unsuccessfully to stop. The fatalities include two children and a pregnant woman. All the fatalities were on the minibus.
The findings show that the minibus went through the barrier at 7:05 P.M. and stopped on the tracks. The train operator saw the vehicle but could not stop in time.
The driver of the minibus was taken to Soroka Medical Center in moderate condition. He told the police he had noticed the barrier too late and could not stop in time.
A railway lookout guard has been posted at the site since an accident there eight months ago. He told the police that yesterday's crash occurred in a split second, so he couldn't prevent it.
The train operator, Giora Weiss, said the driver of the minibus was talking to his passengers and did not notice he was approaching the barrier. Weiss said he saw the minibus traveling at a high speed, after which it broke through the barrier and stopped on the tracks. "Thank God the train didn't go off the tracks," Weiss added.
Referring to the minibus driver, Weiss said: "I don't know where he was looking and if he was looking at the road at all." The train operator said he began braking the train 400 meters from the minibus.
The chief executive of Israel Railways, Yitzhak Harel, said a train operator going 130 kilometers an hour needs 700 meters to bring the train to a halt. "It's not possible to expect a train operator to respond to every whim of motorists violating the law," Harel said.
Following the accident, train travel on the Tel Aviv-Be'er Sheva line was halted. The railway decided to set up an internal investigative panel, in addition to one the Transportation Ministry will establish.
A volunteer from the Zaka rescue service told Haaretz that one of the dead was himself a Zaka volunteer, from Jerusalem.
"The passengers in the minibus were on their way to spend Shabbat in the south," he said. "Some were dressed in Sabbath clothes. When we got to the scene, we saw two bodies of small children and we transferred a women in the advanced stages of pregnancy to the hospital in critical condition. One of [our] volunteers identified the body of the [Jerusalem Zaka] volunteer. It was a shocking sight."
At the scene, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told Channel 2 television that he had ordered an investigation. "I regret that motorists continue to do this, and every year there are hundreds of incidents of [motorists] going through barriers," he said.
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