TEL AVIV – The head of a pre-military academy and an instructor remained in police custody Saturday night over the deaths of 10 teenagers killed during a flash flood during a hike in the Arava region last week, while the guide who led the hike was transferred to house arrest after testifying that she warned against going on the trip.
The guide, who happens to be the daughter of the commander of the Arava’s search and rescue unit, told police that she had consulted with her father prior to the hike. He advised against it, saying “don’t take the chance” with the weather, which forecasts said would be tempestuous. She said she passed on the advice to the pre-military academy but ultimately the final decision was out of her hands.
The principal of the Bnei Zion academy and two others were arrested on Friday on suspicion of negligent homicide for not heeding the inclement weather and flash flood warnings. Police are also investigating whether the organizers lied to participants regarding the safety of the hike. Police stormed the offices of the academy Sunday morning, confiscating computers and documents.
According to investigators, the teens tried to run to safety and while most of them were able to climb to higher ground many of them did not manage to do so in time and were swept away by the floodwaters.
Seven of the 10 teenagers killed in the flood were laid to rest on Friday while the remaining three were buried on Sunday.
On Thursday, prior to the hike, several of the participating teens texted their incredulity that the hike was to go ahead despite the weather forecast.
“We’re dead — I’m serious,” read a text message from one girl.
Another wrote, “It doesn’t make sense for us to go to a place where everything is flooding. It’s tempting fate — we’re going to die.”
On Saturday, it emerged that one of the teens killed, Tzur Alfi, saved the lives of his friends.
“Tzur managed to grab a stone and could have lifted himself up [to safety] very easily, but he saw all his friends from the pre-military program coming toward him, so he grabbed everyone he could by the hand and let each one climb on top of him until the flood overpowered him,” Alfi’s girlfriend Liri Uriel, told Channel 10 on Saturday.
Uriel also told the Hebrew-language Ynet news site that Alfi’s dream was to serve in the IDF’s elite 669 search-and-rescue unit. She said Alfi’s actions on Thursday showed that he didn’t even need the army training.
At his funeral, Alfi’s grandmother said, “I heard that you tried to help your friends, to save them. That’s the noblest kind of sacrifice, of someone born to lead. It fits you. You loved everyone and you sacrificed yourself for them.”
The tragic deaths have rocked the country.
President Reuven Rivlin sent his condolences to the families on Friday, telling them, “How much sorrow is sweeping the nation this morning. We lost wonderful children, the best of our youth. Full of promises, full of expectations and [leaving us with] a broken heart.”
Rivlin thanked the rescue crews, IDF, police and volunteers who helped rescue and locate the survivors and bodies.
“From here I turn to the citizens of Israel with a plea: Please, go out to hike only after you checked you’re in a safe area. Don’t take unnecessary risks,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “all of Israel” mourned the students.
“In this difficult hour, our hearts are with the families who suffer in their grief, a sorrow of which there is none heavier,” he said. “Their children were taken at the dawn of their lives. They were full of love for the nation, the land, the people. They just wanted to give.”
“There are no words of comfort apart from the embrace we give to the families, friends and students of the Bnei Zion pre-military academy,” he said. “We’re with you. We’ll always be with you.”
Hundreds of teens on Saturday night held a candlelight vigil in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square in memory of the teens.