Falling Eucalyptus Branch Kills Teen on Camping Trip

Police close Jordan River Park in wake of accident in which 14-year-old boy was killed.

Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
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Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi

A 14-year-old boy was killed early yesterday morning after a tree branch crashed onto the tent in which he was sleeping at a park near Lake Galilee.

Roi Yom-Tov and his family, who live in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, set up their tents in the Jordan River Park on Monday evening. Around 3:10 A.M., a branch from a eucalyptus tree crashed onto the tent, seriously injuring the boy.

Magen David Adom paramedics called to the scene provided first aid before transferring Yom-Tov to Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, where he died of head and chest injuries.

A policeman examining a tree branch that fell on a sleeping teen at a Jordan River Park campsite on Tuesday August 10, 2010. Inset, Roi Yom-Tov.Credit: Haaretz

In the wake of the incident, police have closed down the park and are investigating the park's owners for possible negligence.

The chief of the police's Golan District said police investigators have spotted a number of trees that could still pose safety risks to campers, and instructed park authorities to close the area until further notice.

"I'm no expert on trees," said the police chief, Superintendent Benny Binyamin. "That's why we're waiting for authorization from a Jewish National Fund-certified forester."

Shai Gerzi of Or Yehuda was camped about 20 meters from the Yom-Tov family the night of the accident. "At 3 in the morning I heard a woman scream," he said. "I ran toward her, thinking it was an animal attack or something like that. When I got there I saw a terrible sight - a woman screaming and her son laid out next to her. He was still alive, but in such bad condition that there was nothing I could do to help.

"I never thought of eucalyptus trees as dangerous enough to become death traps, but apparently a eucalyptus, even if it looks green and strong, can collapse unexpectedly," he said.

Jordan River Park officials said that following the tragedy the area would be closed until completion of the inquiry and clearing of other potentially dangerous trees. They added that authorities examine the area every several years to check for safety hazards, after which potentially dangerous trees are cleared.

Yesterday's incident was not the first in which falling eucalyptus branches have resulted in a loss of life. A year and a half ago, Esther Levy, 45, was killed after a tree branch fell on her as she walked down a street in Tiberias. Ten years ago, a girl hiking with a friend several kilometers north of Jordan River Park was also killed by a falling tree branch.

'One can never know'

Oded Yaffe, a tree expert, told Haaretz, "This is a terrible tragedy, but it was an accident. One can never know ahead of time which branch will break."

"There are millions of trees in Israel, and any number of things can cause a branch to break on a given day," he said.

Michael Weinberger, a JNF forester, gave Haaretz a slightly different account. "Trees talk to us. They can't hide evidence - a certified expert can always know the reasons for a tree branch falling."

"There are a number of reasons a tree might fall - including contact with water, such as rainwater seeping in from below," he said. "The eucalyptus is a very heavy tree, and if it doesn't have a strong base, it's no longer stable."

"There are signs that mark a tree as dangerous, like soil rising in the opposite direction of a slope," he said. "The type of earth, incline, size of the tree, stability of the soil and any harm caused to the tree are all important. It's possible that in this case it was a deadly combination of all of these."

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