The death toll from flash floods that hit a group of teenage hikers in southern Israel Thursday rose from nine to 10 after a body found overnight was identified as the last missing teen Friday morning. Meanwhile, the two Palestinian children also died from flooding in the West Bank. A tractor driver declared missing was located Friday overnight.
The ten victims, nine girls and one boy of around 18 years old, were killed when they were swept away by flash floods during a hike at Nahal Tsafit, south of the Dead Sea. The trip was part of a pre-army program and its director has been arrested for suspected negligent manslaughter.
Also overnight Friday, an overturned truck was found near Ein Tamar, with no driver in it. A body was found nearby, but officials it was not the truck driver. Due to the fact that the area has seen flooding, possibly dislodging landmines following heavy rain, searches for the driver were proceeded carefully after a short lull. They have since ceased.
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A tractor driver that was caught in the flood, and was declared missing, was found Friday over night. Police reported they were contacted by the man himself, and proceeded to coordinate his rescue.
Police have also begun making arrests in their investigation into the death of the young Israelis, and have taken members of the staff of the program which took them on the trip. After the staff members were questioned, two were arrested and a third was released to house arrest.
>> Nine teenagers killed after flash floods hit Israel's south ■ Israel opens investigation ■ Authorities name nine teenage victims ■ 'We're going to die': Text messages reveal teenage flood victim feared for her life on hike >>
Yuval Kahan, the head of the Bnei Zion preparatory seminar, was arrested for alleged negligent manslaughter for his decision to take the group out on the trip, despite the harsh weather conditions. Aviv Bardichev, a fellow staff member, was also arrested and both will remain in custody until Tuesday.
As of Thursday evening, fourteen other members of the group were rescued, two of whom were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva with hypothermia.
Authorities have named the 10 victims as Ilan Bar Shalom, from Rishon Letzion; Ella Or, from the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim; Gali Belali, from the central city of Givatayim; Agam Levi, from Moshav Herut in central Israel; Shani Samir, from the central town of Shoham; Adi Ra’anan, from the coastal community of Mikhmoret; Yael Sadan and Maayan Barhum from Jerusalem; Romi Cohen, from Moshav Maor in the north and Tzur Alfi, from the central town of Mazkeret Batya. The communities are working to create an extensive support network for families and friends coping with the loss of their loved ones.
Israel Police has opened an investigation into the deaths, with the focus expected to be on the organizers of the program on suspicion of death by negligence. Text messages show that one of the girls who was killed told friends she was worried for her safety on the hike, the Israel Television News Company reported. "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," she wrote to her friends on the messaging application WhatsApp a day before the trip.
The incident is the most lethal of such accidents in Israel's history: In 1976, six people were killed in a flood in the Dragot Stream near the Dead Sea; in 2007, four were killed in mountain climbing accident in Qumran; and in 2012 a teenager fell off a cliff during a school trip in the Arava desert, with his father dying in an attempt to save him.
All of the agencies responsible for collecting rainfall and flooding information in the south issued rather clear warnings on Wednesday and Thursday regarding the risk of flooding in the area where the group was hiking near the Tzafit stream. The Israel Meteorological Service also issued a warning on the risk of flooding in the Dead Sea region, the southern Judean Desert and the Arava. It should be noted that even relatively small quantities of rainfall in the desert can cause powerful flood waters.
"Israel grieves the promising young lives that were cut off by this tragedy in the Arava," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the news. "We embrace the families with grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded."
President Reuven Rivlin wrote about the flood on Twitter, saying "Our thoughts and prayers go to our brothers, children, our loved ones, and those in danger. We're following the situation in the south closely and are sending a warm embrace to the effected families. We will strengthen and lend help to the forces who are currently working to rescue, find and treat those injured. I ask all to please follow their instructions."