Israeli police arrested three youth leaders from an academy Friday on charges of negligence after floods swept away 10 teenage hikers in the country’s southern desert region.

The unseasonable flooding also claimed the lives of four others over two days and prompted a dramatic rescue attempt involving search teams and helicopters.

The 10 hikers — nine girls and a boy — were part of a group of 25 mostly 18-year-olds studying in a post-high school, pre-military educational academy. Academy leaders appeared to have ignored warnings from the local meteorological service about the possibility of such floods in the area. 

Just a day earlier, a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl from the area’s nomadic Bedouin community were killed in separate incidents when unseasonable torrential rains hit the arid desert region, where even a small amount of rainfall can cause powerful flooding, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

It was also reported that two Palestinian children, ages 9 and 10, died while playing near a reservoir when it flooded near the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday.


Soldiers walk toward a helicopter during a search for young people missing after flooding in southern Israel on April 26. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

It is common for Israeli teenagers to take a gap year after the completion of high school to further their studies before they start their compulsory military service. Slots at such an institution are competitive and highly sought after.

Israel’s Hadashot television news published a WhatsApp exchange between one of the girls who was killed and a friend, showing her complaining about having to go on the hike in such weather and fearing for her life. 

“We could end up dying there,” wrote the girl to her friend. 

On Thursday, Israeli television stations canceled scheduled broadcasts to provide live coverage of the dramatic rescue operation, which included the use of five military helicopters and search and rescue teams from a special unit. The search continued until nightfall and resumed Friday morning, when the body of the remaining girl was found. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “disaster” and said “Israel was grieving over the promising young lives that were cut off by this tragedy.” 

Police said they were also still searching for the driver of a truck involved in a road accident in the area where the flooding struck.