Tzafit River disaster

Flood victim said to have refused to climb to safety, pulled up friends 1 by 1

Tzur Alfi’s girlfriend says 18-year-old dreamed of serving in IDF’s elite search and rescue unit, but his heroism during flash flood showed he didn’t even need the training

Tzur Alfi of Mazkeret Batya, who was killed in a flash flood in the south during a school trip on April 26, 2018. (Facebook)
Tzur Alfi of Mazkeret Batya, who was killed in a flash flood in the south during a school trip on April 26, 2018. (Facebook)

In new details uncovered Saturday regarding the Judean Desert flash flood that took the lives of 10 Israelis teens, Channel 10 reported that one of the youths chose to forgo climbing to safety in order to save the lives of his friends.

One by one, Tzur Alfi grabbed the hands of friends who were drifting away in the waves of the Tzafit River, allowing each to climb on top of him before hoisting themselves to safety, the TV channel said.

“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 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, who had evidently spoken with some of the survivors from the tragic hike, told Channel 10.

Alfi was swept away along with nine other victims who were on a pre-program bonding hike ahead of the commencement of their studies at the Bnei Zion pre-military academy later this year.

Volunteers from the ZAKA emergency response service transport the bodies of Israeli teenagers killed in a flash flood near the Dead Sea on April 26, 2018. (ZAKA)

Uriel told the Ynet news site that Alfi had dreamed of serving in the IDF’s elite 669 search and rescue unit, and said it was clear from Alfi’s heroism on Thursday that he didn’t even need the military training.

Liri Uriel, the girlfriend of Tzur Alfi, who was killed in the Judean Desert flash flood along with nine other Israeli teens, speaks to Channel 10 on April 27, 2018. (Screen capture/Channel 10)

“If Tzur knew that we were sitting in a circle on Friday at school and interviewing on TV, he would probably laugh at us and wonder why we did not go to the beach,” Uriel told Channel 10.

Notwithstanding the tragic consequences of the hike, which academy staff had decided to undertake despite days of warnings of possible flash floods in the area, one teen survivor who spoke anonymously to Ynet warned against rushing to appoint blame.

He explained that academy staff said they had checked with the relevant authorities. “There was an expectation of rain only at 3 p.m. and [we] were hiking at 1 p.m. The academy people said that if there was rain we’d go somewhere else and definitely not to a flood.” There had been no plan to see floods, he noted.

Police on Friday arrested the head of the academy Yuval Kahan and the group’s tour guide Aviv Bardichev on suspicion of negligent homicide.

Citing “contradictions in the versions of events,” a Beersheba Magistrate’s Court extended the remands of Kahan and Bardichev by five days on Friday afternoon.

A composite photo of the 10 victims of a flash flood in southern Israel on April 27, 2018. Top row, left to right: Romi Cohen, Ilan Bar Shalom, Shani Shamir, Adi Raanan, Agam Levy. Bottom row, left to right: Yael Sadan, Maayan Barhum, Tzur Alfi, Gali Balali, Ella Or. (Courtesy/Facebook)

In a WhatsApp message sent to participants on Wednesday ahead of the trip, organizers had assured participants that there was nothing to worry about.

Nine young women and one young man — Alfi — were killed by the flood at Tzafit River, a popular hiking trail along a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

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 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.

Seven of the victims were laid to rest Friday, with the other three to be buried Sunday.

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