A group from the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization reached the crash site of the Germanwings plane high in the French Alps on Monday to assist in recovering the remains of an Israeli man who was one of the 150 who died in the tragedy.
Along with assisting the local search teams, the eight ZAKA volunteers were tasked with collecting and returning for Jewish burial in Israel the remains of Eyal Baum, an Israeli citizen who was on board the flight that crashed March 24 on the way to Dusseldorf, Germany, from Barcelona, Spain.
“Our mission is to ensure a full Jewish burial for Eyal Baum, and to assist the international teams in the search and recovery efforts,” said ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief Officer Mati Goldstein. “It is difficult terrain to cover, but we are prepared to work for as long as it takes.”
Baum’s family had asked Germanwings parent company Lufthansa to fly the ZAKA team in to help with the recovery efforts. The Israeli team, along with other volunteers from ZAKA France, were helicoptered into the crash site where they set up a command center and began working with local and international rescue workers.
Authorities at the crash site are poring over DNA evidence that has been painstakingly collected from among the debris scattered across the steep mountainside. Their goal is to try to identify victims for the grieving relatives who have poured into France by the hundreds.
French and German officials are investigating why co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the Airbus 320 into the French Alps.
On Monday Duesseldorf prosecutors said Lubitz, 27, had received psychotherapy “with a note about suicidal tendencies” for several years before becoming a pilot.
Authorities believe, based on data from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, that Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit and ignored his pleas to open the door while sending the plane into a fatal descent on what should have been a routine flight.
The ZAKA organization, in addition to search and rescue services, specializes in recovering the remains of victims from accidents and terror attacks.
In February, Goldstein and ZAKA International Rescue Unit Chief of Operations Chaim Weingarten traveled to Denmark to help ensure a full Jewish burial for the victim of a February 14 attack on a synagogue in Copenhagen. Volunteer Jewish security guard Dan Uzan was shot dead by a lone Islamist gunman, hours after his assailant had killed local film-maker Finn Noergaard in a shooting at a free speech event at a cultural center in the Danish capital.
Goldstein also led the ZAKA International Rescue Unit delegation to Paris in January following a series of terror attacks in the city at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and at the HyperCacher kosher supermarket. Among the 17 people killed were four Jewish shoppers who were shot at the supermarket. The bodies of Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Francois-Michel Saada and Philippe Braham were flown to Israel and laid to rest in Jerusalem.
AFP and JTA contributed to this report.