The hometowns and friends of the victims of Wednesday’s deadly accident in northern Israel expressed shock and sorrow as the details of the tragedy became clear, with particular anguish over the deaths of a mother and her three children in the crash.
Five people were killed and close to 50 were injured in the collision between a bus and multiple vehicles on Route 89 in the Upper Galilee, near the town of Hurfeish, on Wednesday afternoon.
The family members who were killed hailed from the northern town of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, whose municipality said that the mayor and staff “are shocked and horrified by the unfathomable tragedy and terrible disaster to afflict our city… An entire family, the Ben-Eli family of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, has suddenly been taken from us.”
The four family members were pronounced dead at the scene: Moran Ben-Eli, 35 and kids Dekel (15), Liam (11) and Annael (5). The father, Reuven, who was also in the car, was hospitalized in serious condition.
The municipality offered condolences and swift recovery to Reuven and said Mayor Arkady Pomerantz “has instructed the municipality director-general to prepare immediately to provide a general municipal envelope in all aspects and to provide the family with all needed resources,” including social workers and psychologists who were already talking to relatives.
The four’s funerals were set to be held at 3 p.m. Thursday in the town.
Eyewitnesses said Wednesday that the crash occurred after the bus swerved from its lane for an unknown reason and hit several other vehicles. Bus driver Asher Basson, 76, was the fifth victim of the accident.
Basson, a resident of Kiryat Yam, is survived by a wife, four children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Kiryat Yam Mayor David Even Zur offered his condoelences to “the dear Basson family that lost its father in the terrible accident on Route 89.” He called Basson “a family man, a hard-working and loving father and grandfather.”
Friend Meni Altman told Walla Basson was “a man who always had a smile on his face, he always made people happy. If someone was in a bad mood, he’d encourage them. I’ve known him since childhood… He had a good heart, he gave without thought of return.”
The bus was carrying pupils of the Bnei Akiva youth group back from a field trip held for the Sukkot holiday, and most of those injured were children from the group — the vast majority were lightly injured, though two children were in serious condition.
Councilor Dvir Neria, 18, spoke to the Ynet news site from a Nahariya hospital: “We felt the bus accelerate for an unknown reason — maybe something hit it — and then we turned over three or four times. It was crazy. I don’t know how my pupils and I are alive.”
Pupil Yedidia Turman, who was lightly hurt, said: “We were talking on the bus and suddenly we heard three booms, we rolled over and it was very quick. All the windows shattered and fell.”
Another pupil, Lavi Stein, added: “There was crying, lots of blood, everyone was injured… After we got out through a hole in the bus, some [kids] called their parents.”
As of Wednesday evening, one person in serious condition was hospitalized at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, while two people in serious condition, one in moderate condition and 17 lightly injured were hospitalized at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed. Another person in moderate condition and 26 lightly injured had been brought to the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya.
Police were investigating the causes of the crash.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who landed back in Israel Wednesday evening after a trip to the United States, said he was devastated to hear of the tragic accident, and “sends condolences and a warm embrace to the families of those killed during this difficult time.”
Bennett requested that the Israeli public “be extremely careful about cautious road travel.”