'I would have wanted to hear her voice,' says her father

Body of missing Israeli student Aya Na’amneh found in Ethiopian desert

Foreign Ministry says 21-year-old likely fell to her death after becoming separated from group during hike

21-year-old Aya Na'amneh, an Israeli student who went missing in the Ethiopian desert, in an undated photo. (Courtesy)
21-year-old Aya Na'amneh, an Israeli student who went missing in the Ethiopian desert, in an undated photo. (Courtesy)

The body of a 21-year-old Israeli student was found Sunday in an Ethiopian desert near where she went missing a day earlier, following a wide-scale search operation, the Foreign Ministry said.

Aya Na’amneh of the northern town of Arraba was part of a delegation of students from Haifa’s Technion Institute of Technology who were visiting the African country and were on a hike in the desert when she was separated from the group and went missing.

Authorities were alerted to her disappearance after she failed to arrive at a gathering point. Her insurance was activated and the Foreign Ministry was informed, and private search teams were sent in cooperation with local police and military forces to try and locate her.

She had been missing for some 24 hours in an area where temperatures during the day reached 50°C (120°F), without water.

“We are sorry to announce that the body of the young Israeli, Aya Na’amneh, who lost her way during a hike in the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia, has been found,” the ministry said in a statement.

Na’amneh likely fell to her death, the ministry said.

21-year-old Aya Na’amneh, an Israeli student who went missing in the Ethiopian desert, in an undated photo. (Courtesy Na’amneh family)

It added that the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa had coordinated search efforts with Ethiopian authorities and with the Israeli search and rescue company Magnus.

The efforts, halted during the night, continued Sunday morning with drones and a helicopter until the body was located.

“The Foreign Ministry shares the family’s grief, and is helping to transport Aya’s body to be buried in Israel as soon as possible,” the statement concluded.

The Technion said students had completed a four-week academic course with other foreign students in the city of Mekelle earlier in the week, and had decided to stay for several more days. It said the trip was privately organized.

“The Technion profoundly mourns the untimely death of its student Aya Na’amneh from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering and stands together with the family during this difficult and painful time,” the school said in a statement Sunday.

“Aya participated in a Technion academic program, that took place in the city of Mekelle in Ethiopia together with students from Technion, York University in Canada and Mekelle University. The four-week program ended this past Wednesday…. After completion of the program, six students, including Aya, stayed in Ethiopia for a private trip during which Aya separated from the group,” the statement said.

“The Technion is in direct contact with the family and is helping them in every way that is needed.”

Na’amneh’s father, Salim, received the news of her death as he was set to take off to Ethiopia. He was taken off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport.

“I would have wanted to return to my family with my daughter, but unfortunately we received the worst news possible, which we were hoping not to get,” he told the Ynet news site. “I would have wanted to hear her voice and hug her, rather than return without my wonderful daughter.”

He later told Hebrew-language media that he places the blame for Aya’s death “fully on the Technion. They should have taken responsibility for any hike that was part of the delegation.”

On Saturday, Salim told Channel 12 that he had been told that on Saturday morning the Israelis “went to one of the villages there. The trail was long and it was very hot. In the middle of the trip some of the group felt tired and they decided to split up, as some wanted to go back to the bus. When they got to the bus one of the students asked where’s Aya. They thought she was in another car and when they realized she wasn’t there they understood she was missing.”

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