Flash floods killed 10 Israeli teenagers who were hiking south of the Dead Sea on Thursday. Nine of their bodies were found in the course of the afternoon and evening, and the 10th was discovered early on Friday morning.
The 10 were in a group of 25 students on a hike organized by Tel Aviv’s Bnei Zion pre-military academy. They were due to start the program in the coming year, and the hike was intended as a pre-program bonding excursion.
The hike went ahead despite warnings of life-threatening weather conditions. Nine young women and one young man were killed when the group was hit by flash floods in the Tzafit Stream, a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.
Police launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.
The head of the Bnei Zion program and two staff members were questioned by police late Thursday. According to unconfirmed reports, they are suspected of negligent homicide for taking students on the hike despite flood warnings in the area.
Authorities confirmed the deaths of the first nine victims on Thursday evening, and said rescue teams were still working to locate a young woman missing since the incident. Early Friday morning, her body was reported found near Neot Hakikar, south of the Dead Sea.
Two students were lightly to moderately injured, and the other 13 in the group were located and rescued unharmed.
The 10 fatalities were identified as of Friday morning as 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 boy 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.
One of the teens who survived the ordeal said he watched as a three-meter-high wave washed away his friends.
“I saw bodies floating in the water. I didn’t know if they were alive, or if what I saw was bodies,” they boy told Hadashot news through his father, identified as Nissim.
“At one point there was a wave that was three or four meters high,” the young man told his father. “I was holding on to one of my friends really tight… but we couldn’t cope with the massive flow of water.
“She slipped away from me in front of my eyes,” he told his father.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other lawmakers expressed condolences to the families of the nine teenagers Thursday evening.
“The State of Israel mourns the promising young lives that were cut short by this tragedy in the Arava,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed condolences over the “heavy tragedy,” and said his ministry would remain in contact with the deceased students’ high schools in the coming days.
President Reuven Rivlin said the entire country was “mourning the loss of young promising lives in the heavy disaster.” He said Israel “embraces” the grieving families and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov also expressed condolences for the tragedy, saying his “thoughts and prayers are with all in #Israel and the families of the nine children, who were tragically killed in torrential rains today around #NahalTzafit.”
“Incredible rescue teams have saved fifteen children and continue their work,” he said in a tweet.