Seven people were killed Thursday evening when a train crashed into a minibus near Kibbutz Gat, which is located north of Kiryat Gat. All the dead were passengers of the minibus, and include a pregnant woman and two children ages four and six. A ZAKA rescue service volunteer was also among the dead.
The names of the seven, residents of Beitar Illit, were cleared for publication early Friday morning. They are Aryeh Bernstein (43) and his wife Rivka (41), and their children: Malka Gotstein (21), Yochanan (16), Chana (14), and Mordechai-Aharon (9). Their grandson Mordechai-Aharon Bernstein was also killed in the accident.
The driver of the minibus was evacuated to hospital in moderate condition, and the vehicle's seven passengers, who were all killed, were all members of the same family.
Two people were moderately wounded and six people sustained light wounds. The injured were evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. Other passengers who were lightly injured were treated at the scene.
The train's front cabin that was involved in the crash was overturned, and the minibus it hit was completely crushed. Magen David Adom Spokesperson Maxim Nizri said that the train continued to coast for 20 to 30 meters after the initial hit.
Thursday's train accident. The train couldn't stop in time (Photo: Tovah Dadon)
Magen David Adom said reports of the accident, which took place on road 353 in the south, were received at 7:15 pm. Large police and emergency services forces were alerted to the scene.
Israel Railways Director-General Yitzhak Harel told Kol Israel Radio that an initial investigation has revealed that the minibus broke through the electric barrier at a railway crossing and that the train's conductor, driving a train packed with passengers, activated the emergency brake, but was unable to stop the train in time.
"He just arrived at a high speed. I don't know why. All the warning systems at the crossing worked," said Harel.
Eldad, who was on the train, told Ynet, "We felt like we ran over a pit, a small collision. At first, there was no ruckus until the helicopters arrived and people started to panic. A military helicopter landed in order to load injured people and a convoy of ambulances arrived on the site."
Evacuating the dead (Photo: Avi Rokach)
Avital Avramzon, who was also on the train, said that the train made a sudden stop at 7:05 pm. "There was a kind of weak sound of a collision. Ever since, the train has been standing still, and we are all waiting inside, gathered by the windows."
Senior police officials told Ynet on Thursday, "The human factor once again played an important role in the lethal accident." Police are to examine the possibility that the signalmen gave a report that the minibus was stuck, but that the report did not reach the train's conductor in time. The conductor, Giora Weiss said, "I saw him brake on the track from a distance."
Police will examine how much time passed from when the report was given to the time of the crash. Police will also investigate what caused the minibus to stop on the tracks, and a special investigation team has been appointed in the matter.
The train's conductor described how he saw the minibus and its driver approaching. "He seemed to be talking to his passengers, wasn't paying attention when he approached the barrier, he came quickly. I saw it from a distance. I saw him some 200 -300 meters from the road and he was coming fast. He came too fast to stop at the barrier."
The conductor added, "The signalwoman tried to give a warning. I tried to brake before, but unfortunately, I was unable to." The driver was taken in for questioning following the crash.
Meanwhile, the driver of the minibus, who was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in moderate condition, told investigators that he saw the barrier at the last minute, and was unable to stop the vehicle in time.
After a short interrogation, the driver was sent to undergo further tests in the hospital.
Ilana Curiel an Meital Yasur Beit-Or contributed to this report