Ten students were killed during a field trip on Thursday during flash floods that pummeled Israel. A group of 25 students, ages 17 and 18, who were accepted to the Bnei Tzion pre-military academy in Tel Aviv for the coming year, were hiking in the Judean Desert along the Nahal Tzafit riverbed trail that empties into the Dead Sea.
Fifteen other students missing for several hours were found during a massive search-and-rescue operation that included Israeli Police, the Air Force’s 669 rescue team and a regional volunteer search-and-rescue unit. Several were treated for light injuries and hypothermia.
Nine of the dead students were recovered Thursday. The tenth student’s body was found Friday morning south of the Dead Sea near an overturned truck.
Israel’s Ministry of Education claims that it was not made aware of the trip, as per protocol. The principal of the academy and the organizer of the trip were arrested by Israeli police under the suspicion of negligent homicide. Nationwide, warnings had been made over the past several days for individuals to avoid flood-prone areas.
In Israel, rivers fill up with water during the winter rain season, which typically ends around the Passover holiday. The river had been dry for several weeks before unseasonable torrential downpours struck the country on Wednesday and Thursday. When dry, riverbeds are popular hiking destinations. Yet during heavy rains, the water in the rivers can rise quickly leading to flash floods. Hikers are warned to steer clear of river beds during inclement weather, when they can be notoriously dangerous.
The riverbed was completely dry when the students started their hike. One of the survivors of the flood said that shortly after the water suddenly appeared, the rapids quickly swelled to a height of three to four meters [over 10 feet]. The hikers were caught in a steep area of the riverbed when the waters struck. with the survivors holding on for their lives to trees or fortunate to climb onto large rocks above the water’s reach.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement: “A heavy tragedy has struck the State of Israel. Our hearts are with the families of the teenagers who found their deaths in flash floods in the South,” while adding that “the Ministry of Education will continue, over the coming hours and days, to closely escort the educational staff in the schools the students attended.”
Bennett also thanked the search and rescue teams “for their determined work to rescue the boys and girls.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter: “The State of Israel grieves the promising young lives that were cut short by this tragedy in the Arava [Desert Region]. We embrace the families in grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded.”
Two Bedouin teenagers were killed in separate incidents during floods on Wednesday.