Police raid offices of pre-military academy over flood deaths, seize computers
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Tzafit River disaster

Police raid offices of pre-military academy over flood deaths, seize computers

Authorities suspect detained organizers of deadly Judean Desert hike tried to obstruct investigation by coordinating testimonies

Police stand outside the Bnei Zion pre-army academy in Tel Aviv, from which 10 incoming students were killed in a flash flood in the Judean Desert, on April 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
Police stand outside the Bnei Zion pre-army academy in Tel Aviv, from which 10 incoming students were killed in a flash flood in the Judean Desert, on April 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Police raided the Bnei Zion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv on Sunday, seizing documents and confiscating computers, after suspicions arose that the heads of the Tel Aviv-based institution were trying to obstruct an investigation into a Thursday hike which led to the deaths of 10 teenage students in a flash flood.

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.

The 10 victims were part of a group of 25 students on a hike organized by the pre-military academy, and were set to attend its program in the coming year.

The head of the academy, Yuval Kahan, and the group’s tour guide Aviv Bardichev were arrested on Friday on suspicion of negligent homicide in ignoring the flash flood warnings amidst stormy weather.

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.

Officers raided Bnei Zion’s offices on Sunday and took folders and computers. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Ynet news site that police suspect the detainees coordinated their testimonies with one another ahead of time and thus attempted to obstruct the investigation.

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)

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.

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

An academy tour guide now under house arrest in the case said she warned against going on the trip, but that the final decision was not 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, and that they were not heeded.

Military helicopters search for missing teens swept away in the flooding of the Tzafit River, a riverbed near the Dead Sea in southern Israel, on April 26, 2018. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

Seven of the funerals — those of Ella Or, Maayan Barhoum, Yael Sadan, Ilan Bar Shalom, Agam Levy, Shani Shamir and Tzur Alfi — took place on Friday, drawing thousands of mourners. The three remaining funerals for Romi Cohen, Gali Balali, and Adi Raanan were to take place Sunday.

Thousands gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims.

A rescuer said Sunday that the victims had been just 300-400 meters (around 1,000 feet) away from the end of their hike, and that had the powerful current hit five minutes later, they would have been safe.

“They were, I estimate, about 300 or 400 meters away from ending the hike,” Dotan Sherf, a firefighter and rescue expert who previously worked as a rafter and rafting instructor, told Army Radio. “It means that had they walked through that crevice for five to 10 minutes they would be out. They were five minutes from the end of the hike.”

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