The head of a pre-army academy and an instructor at the academy involved in last week’s desert hike, in which 10 teenagers were swept to their deaths by a flash flood, were released to house arrest on Monday.
The head of the Bnei Zion academy, Yuval Kahan, and the instructor, Aviv Bardichev, were arrested on Friday on suspicion of causing death by negligence for ignoring flash flood warnings. They were released to house arrest for five days and are barred from entering the academy’s offices or from contacting anyone involved in the investigation.
After his release, Kahan said, “I will go personally to each family. The only thing I have thought of in recent days is this terrible disaster that took place under my watch, and I am unable to find the words of pain or condolence that can express what I feel.”
Bardichev said, “I am going to contact the parents myself. I think that is what will help — not statements to the media.”
The Haaretz newspaper on Monday quoted a source closely involved in the case as saying that Bardichov will potentially face harsher charges of manslaughter because the weather warnings delivered to him were apparently much more specific than those given to Kahan.
The difference between the two charges is that manslaughter is accompanied by recklessness or indifference as regards the possible outcome. The suspect should have known that such an act was highly likely to cause harm.
Police are investigating whether the organizers of the hike lied to participants about the safety of the desert trail they planned to take, as well as about their coordination, or lack thereof, with relevant authorities.
In a WhatsApp message sent to participants on Wednesday ahead of the trip, organizers had assured participants that there was nothing to worry about.
Over the weekend it was revealed that one Bnei Zion staffer advised against taking the students on a hike to the Dead Sea area amid heavy rains last week. Her father, a search and rescue official, warned her not to “take the chance,” given the poor weather. The staffer said she passed her father’s warnings to school officials, but they went unheeded.
On Sunday, the Bnei Zion academy’s Tel Aviv offices were raided by police, who seized documents and confiscated computers, after suspicions arose that the heads of the Tel Aviv-based institution were trying to obstruct the investigation into the deadly hike.
Nine girls and one boy were killed when the group was hit by flash floods in the Tzafit riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area. Seven of the victims were laid to rest Friday and the last three on Sunday.
Nine of the teenagers’ bodies were found in the course of the afternoon and evening on Thursday, and the tenth was discovered early on Friday morning.
The 10 fatalities were Shani Shamir from the central city of Shoham; Ella Or from Ma’ale Adumim; Maayan Barhum and Yael Sadan from Jerusalem; Tzur Alfi, the only male who was killed, from the central town of Mazkeret Batya; Agam Levy from the central Israeli town of Herut; Romi Cohen of Maor, near Hadera; Gali Balali from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim; Adi Raanan of the northern Israel moshav of Mikhmoret; and Ilan Bar Shalom of Rishon Lezion.
The ten were part of a group of 25 students on a hike organized by the academy, and were set to attend its program in the coming year.