Authorities Identify Bodies of Two Missing Israelis in Rubble of New Zealand Earthquake

Bodies of three Israelis have been identified so far in rubble of Christchurch quake, which struck last week; Three other Israelis have yet to make contact with their families since the quake.

Haaretz Service
Sefi Krupsky
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Haaretz Service
Sefi Krupsky

New Zealand search and rescue teams  have found the bodies of two Israelis reported missing since the earthquake that hit the south Island town of Christchurch last week.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that the bodies of Gabi Ingel and Ofir Levy, both 22-year-olds from Rehovot, have been found and their families have been notified.

Israeli tourists Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levi, whose bodies were found in the rubble of the earthquake in Christchurch. Credit: AP

Three Israelis have been reported as killed in the New Zealand quake thus far. There are a three additional Israelis who have not yet been in contact with their families, although they are not believed to have been in the area of Christchurch when the earthquake hit.

Ingel and Levy arrived in New Zealand in December of last year, planning to work in a vineyard near Christchurch.

Over the course of the past few days, private emergency rescue teams hired by the young men's families attempted to conduct searches for Ingel and Levy. However, the local New Zealand authorities reportedly prevented them from doing so.

Hilik Magnus, an Israeli rescue team member, expressed harsh criticism against the local authorities, saying "the fact that they are ignoring us, a group comprised of individuals with internationally renowned experience is inexplicable and cannot be comprehended."

The rescue team told Haaretz that Levy and Ingel were found "exactly where we though they would be, close to the cathedral in the center of the city." The team reported that the boys were most likely walking on the street when a building collapsed on them, killing them both instantly.

The embassy in New Zealand is organizing have the boys' bodies flown to Israel for burial. Ofir Levy's sister Michal, came to New Zealand after the earthquake struck to "bring my brother home," she told Haaretz. She will be returning to Israel on Wednesday morning.

The death toll from the deadly earthquake currently stands at 154, with some predicting that it could reach as high as 240.

New Zealand has extended its state of emergency, and the country just commemorated a week since the quake with a nationwide moment of silence on Tuesday.

The three other Israeli youngsters in the area who have not contacted their families yet are Dimona residents Chen Ben Hemo, Roi Vaknin and Shlomo Avitan.

"We know they went on a trek and we haven't been able to get in touch with them for a few days," said Tzipi Ben Hemo, Chen's mother. "We sent them text messages telling them to go to the nearest police station and report that they are there."

"They are all serious, responsible guys who know how to handle themselves in the wild," she added.

The body of Israeli backpacker, Ofer Mizrahi, was found on Sunday.

Mizrahi, 23, of Kibbutz Magal, was at the wheel of a car carrying three of his friends when the earthquake struck and a concrete girder crushed the vehicle.

Michal Friedman and Liron Sadot, who were sitting in the back seat, managed to crawl out. Guy Yordan broke the passenger seat window and got himself out. But their efforts to get Mizrahi out of the car failed.

Orit Friedman, Michal's sister, said the three were making their way back to Israel.

"Michal sounded excited and stressed. She, Guy Yordan and Liron Sadot are on their way back. They were left with nothing but their passports, which they carried on them. The last time we spoke to her was on Tuesday night when they left Wellington," she said.

Chabad's representative in Christchurch, Rabbi Shmuel Friedman, said the organization's building in the city was destroyed and the synagogue was slightly damaged. Nobody was hurt.

"The Chabad house was completely ruined. Two people were inside of it, but they got out unharmed," he said.