Israel Opens Investigation Into Flash Flood Deaths of Nine Teenage Hikers

Israel Police are opening an investigation into the deaths of nine teenage hikers on Thursday who were killed in a flash flood near the Dead Sea.

The investigation will focus on the staff of the pre-army preparatory program that organized the trip despite flash flood warnings from the authorities. They are likely to be investigated on suspicion of causing death by negligence, which carries with it a prison sentence of three years.

>> Nine Teenagers Killed, One Missing After Flash Floods Hit Israel’s South

Police at the Ben Tzion mechina in Tel Aviv. Ofer Vaknin

The nine killed, eight young women and one man aged 18, were swept away by a flash flood during a hike in Nahal Tsafit, south of the Dead Sea. One person is still missing. Fifteen members of the group were rescued. Two suffered from hypothermia. The injured were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva.

A police force on Thursday evening went to the preparatory program’s center in Tel Aviv and questioned the head of the program and two counselors. However, police say they are now focusing their efforts on finding the last missing hiker.

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The Ben Tzion pre-army program, called a mechina in Hebrew, is pluralistic, with religious and secular Israelis, who take a year between high school and the army to study, volunteer and travel around Israel.

"Israel grieves the promising young lives that were cut off by this tragedy in the Arava," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "We embrace the families with grief and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded."

Agencies responsible for collecting rainfall and flooding information in the south issued warnings on Wednesday and Thursday regarding the risk of flooding in the area where the group was hiking. The warnings however did not relate specifically to the Tsafit stream.

Due to high winds on Thursday, the Masada National Park near the Dead Sea was closed to the public. The Barak stream, further south, was declared off limits to visitors after the floods damaged safety installations there. A stretch of Highway 40 in the south was also closed to traffic.

Israel was hit by unusually heavy rain on Wednesday, accompanied by hail in many places. Coming at the tail end of the winter rainy season, it took many Israelis by surprise and caused flooding around the country. Two teenagers died Wednesday in flash floods in Israel and the West Bank.

The winds are expected to continue on Friday, and similar caution is advised.

– Search and rescue operation in the Nahal Tsafit area