A guide on house arrest after 10 teens from the Bnei Zion pre-military academy were killed Thursday in a flash flood during a hike in the Dead Sea area said she warned against going on the trip, but that the final decision wasn’t hers to make.
The guide is the daughter of the deputy commander of the Arava emergency search and rescue unit, which is in charge of the area where the teens died, Hebrew media reported on Saturday night.
In her police testimony, reported on TV news broadcasts which also quoted her lawyer Shahar Mendelman, the guide said that she consulted with her father before the hike and that he advised against the trip, telling her “don’t take the chance,” given weather warnings, a message she said she passed on to the pre-military academy. She further said that she herself had voiced her concerns but that they weren’t heeded.
Israel’s Hadashot news reported that the guide’s father was set to give police testimony as well.
The head of the pre-military academy and an instructor were arrested on Friday on suspicion of negligent homicide in ignoring the flash flood warnings. They remained in custody as of Saturday night.
Israeli 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.
Seven of the 10 teenagers killed in the flood — Ella Or, Maayan Barhoum, Yael Sadan, Agam Levy, Shani Shamir, Ilan Bar Shalom, and Tzur Alfi — were laid to rest on Friday with their bereft parents, siblings, and friends eulogizing them in turn as noble would-be leaders, firm “lovers of life,” and their “little girls.” The remaining students, Romi Cohen, Adi Raanan and Gali Balali were to be buried on Sunday.
The 10 were part of a group of 25 students on a hike organized by the Bnei Zion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv, and were set to attend its program in the coming year. Their deaths Thursday amid unseasonable rains and warnings of flash floods in the riverbed where they were hiking, Tzafit, shocked the country.
Barhoum’s mother told Hadashot TV on Saturday that she called the pre-military academy the night before the hike to ask if the trip was still going ahead and if authorities were consulted.
Barhoum said she asked whether the academy had sought the advice of the Education Ministry and whether it was in touch with the ministry’s situation room, set up for school trips, amid the bad weather. “I was told that they were handling it, that’s it,” she said.
One of the teenagers who survived the flash flood also spoke to Hadashot TV on Saturday, saying the group was in “good spirits” during the hike and walking in small groups in the Judean desert about an hour in when suddenly he heard shouting.
Noam Kelem said someone started “screaming of a flood” and all the teens heard the noise and saw a “massive wave of brown” as they were hit by the flash flood.
“We grasped whatever we could, the water was at chest level and it was freezing cold,” he said, adding that he saw two people “swept away, their bodies slamming against boulders as they went.”
Also Saturday, new details emerged on the actions of one of the teens killed, Tzur Alfi, who is said to have 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 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 on Saturday.
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.
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.”
Some of the teens on the hike, including Barhoum, had expressed reservations about going on trip, sending messages to friends and family voicing their concerns.
The deaths of the teens have gripped 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.”