Nearly Entire Family Laid to Rest in Safed

Brake failure kills parents and six kids outside Tiberias.

Eight coffins, one beside the other, were placed under ground late Tuesday night, as friends and family members said a final goodbye to all but one member of a family from Moshav Bar Yochai.

Rafi and Yehudit Attias, both 42, and six of their seven children, were killed when their car lost its brakes, rolled down a hill, and burst into flames at 1:30 A.M. Tuesday morning. The sole survivor of the accident, and the Attias family, was Rahel, 7. She sustained minor injuries and is expected to be released today from Haifa's Rambam Medical Center.

The victims were buried at 10 P.M. in a Safed cemetery. Aside from Rafi and Yehudit, they were: Avia, 17; Neria and Elyashiv, 16-year-old twins; Shira, 11; Ta'ir, 9 and Noa, 5. The media was asked to respect the mourners' privacy and not to attend the funeral.

The accident happened when the family was returning home from a Torah dedication ceremony at a synagogue in Migdal Ha'emek named for Rafi's father, Shimon Attias. Rafi was driving the family's 2007 Mitsubishi Grandis minivan in the eastbound lane of Route 77, between Golani Junction and Tiberias, when the vehicle lost braking power. He called police to report the problem and then handed the phone to a female, presumably his wife, who told the operator their location. The operator dispatched a Tiberias police car to the scene, but by the time responders arrived, the van had already rolled down the hill on the opposite side of the highway, overturned and was engulfed in flames. The emergency operator heard the shouts of the passengers and the sounds of the car overturning, over the telephone.

Accident investigators say evidence at the scene indicates that the vehicle went over a meter-high highway divider, crossing over the four lanes of oncoming traffic at an estimated 150 kilometers an hour, jumped a sidewalk, crashed through an iron fence and tumbled 30 meters down a slope before coming to a stop. All of the passengers, except for Rahel, were trapped in the burning vehicle, with no chance of escape.

Initial examinations by police indicate extreme signs of brake wear. The chairman of the moshav council, Yaniv Meir, told reporters that Rafi Attias was a punctilious and "very, very responsible man." He said the van was purchased during the past year and had passed its annual inspection only a few months ago. Investigators said they will thoroughly examine the cause of the brake malfunction.

The head of social work at Rambam, Roni Gagin, said that when Rahel woke up in the hospital yesterday, she asked whether her entire family had died. "We told the relatives to tell her the truth because she witnessed the incident, and they told her 'Yes.' She is aware of what happened, and keeps repeating the question over and over, did everyone really die, and then says 'I am left alone.'"

Gagin said Rahel told her that at some point during the trip, her father, who was driving, said he couldn't stop and that the brakes weren't working. Everyone read Psalms and her mother hugged and kissed her. Once the vehicle finally stopped, Rahel said she called out to her family but no one answered. She opened the door and crawled out, with the understanding, she told Gagin, that she was saving herself, but did not know whether the others would be able to save themselves.

Eli Lancry lives in a high-rise apartment building near the clearing where the van landed. "I was sitting at home, watching television, when suddenly I heard a weird sound, like a plane, and a terrible banging and then shouts. My wife was on the balcony, and she shouted that a car had crashed and was burning. I went out on the balcony and saw a car on fire. I ran down the five flights of stairs to save time. Because it was hard to get to the scene from the direction of the building I got in my car and drove around, toward the main road, parked and and reached the top of the slope. I didn't think twice, and ran down.

"I got to a meter away from the car and saw a little girl. She told me everyone was dead. They died. I hugged her and took her and ran up with her. I saw her mouth was hurt. I gave her to someone there and ran back to the car. I wanted to save someone else. I shouted. The car was completely in flames, and there was silence. I searched around for survivors but there wasn't anyone. Explosions started and I realized there weren't any more survivors and I left. It was terrible. Those images won't leave me. I console myself with the fact that the girl survived. I did my duty. Anyone would have done the same," Lancry said.

Ron Cohen-Tzemah, a friend of the Attias family, told of how Rafi met Yehudit when he came to the yeshiva in Meron as a counselor. "They were a family focused on everything that has to do with charity ... constantly volunteering and doing good deeds. We can't stop crying. It's a blow that will affect us for a long time to come. They left an enormous vacuum. It was the best family in the community, and it was wiped out in a moment. Their door was always open. The three older children were youth movement counselors. God took the best."

The Attias family