Flash flood survivor describes friend ‘slipping away in front of my eyes’

Teen hiker saw ‘bodies floating in the water’ after powerful surge of water submerged the Tzafit River, killing 10 students

A military helicopter searches for missing students near the Dead Sea, southern Israel, April 26, 2018. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)
A military helicopter searches for missing students near the Dead Sea, southern Israel, April 26, 2018. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

One of the teenagers who survived the flash flooding on a hiking trail near the Dead Sea on Thursday recalled seeing “bodies in the water” as 3-meter-high (10 feet) waves killed 10 of his friends.

“I saw bodies floating in the water. I didn’t know if they were alive, or if what I saw was dead bodies,” the young man told Hadashot news through his father, identified only as Nissim.

“At one point there was a wave that was three or four meters high,” the teen recounted. “I was holding on to one of my friends really tight… but we couldn’t stand against the massive water current.”

“She slipped away from me in front of my eyes,” he told his father.

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)

Another teenager who survived told Channel 10 from his hospital bed at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba that he clutched a tree branch and narrowly managed to avoid being swept away.

Hospital officials told the TV channel that 13 of the 25 teens on the hike were receiving treatment for light to moderate injuries, including hypothermia.

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)

Deputy director of Soroka, Professor Yochanan Pfizer, said the hospital would provide psychological support for the teenagers who survived the flash floods.

“The psychological side of this is significant. We have a team of social workers and psychologists that will accompany those who were injured,” he said.

Nine teenage young woman and one young man were killed earlier Thursday when they were hit by the flash floods in the Tzafit River, a popular hiking trail along a riverbed in the southern Dead Sea area.

The hike — organized by Tel Aviv’s Bnei Zion pre-military academy — went ahead despite warnings of heavy rains and severe weather conditions.

Police have launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Police stand outside the Bnei Zion pre-army academy in Tel Aviv, from which 9 students were killed in a flash flood in the Judean desert, on April 26, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The head of Bnei Zion and two staff members were questioned by police late Thursday. According to unconfirmed reports, they are suspected of negligent homicide for taking students on the hike despite flood warnings in the area.

Authorities confirmed the deaths of the first nine victims on Thursday evening, and said rescue teams were still working to locate a young woman missing since the incident. Early Friday morning, her body was found near Neot Hakikar, south of the Dead Sea.

The 10 fatalities were identified as of Friday morning as 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other lawmakers expressed condolences to the families of the nine teenagers Thursday evening.

“The State of Israel mourns the promising young lives that were cut short by this tragedy in the Arava,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

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