Home News Israeli army specialists join search effort in Florida condo collapse

Israeli army specialists join search effort in Florida condo collapse

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Among the hundreds of search-and-rescue workers painstakingly sifting through the rubble of the collapsed Florida condo building are members of a specialized Israeli military unit who are recognized by their yellow helmets and can-do attitude forged by decades of wartime experience.

On Sunday, the specialists from the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command joined the massive effort to find survivors in the devastated remains of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, the Times of Israel reported.

As of Tuesday, the death toll stood at 11, with 150 people still unaccounted for.

The rapid-mobilization unit — which has taken part in a variety of high-profile missions around the globe — is headed by Golan Vach, a colonel in the reserves, and includes 10 other reservists who are all top experts in engineering, according to the IDF.

Vach said the destruction his team has encountered in Florida is the worst it’s ever seen in the decades of missions by the battle-hardened unit.

Golan Vach, Commander of the Israel Rescuers delegation arrives at the area where the condo collapsed in Florida.
Golan Vach, commander of the Israel rescuers delegation, arrives at the area where the condo collapsed in Florida.
GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images

The building “collapsed into itself, and all the … people slipped in the bedrooms under four or five meters of concrete,” he told CNN, adding that he was still hopeful that someone may be pulled out alive.

“We found today and yesterday, new spaces … in the side, so there is still hope. And I will recommend to operate heavy vehicles to scratch the perimeter of the building to expose more layers,” he said.

“Up to one week, I have a solid hope that we will find someone,” Vach added.

The IDF’s delegation arriving in Florida to assist in the search for survivors after the condo collapse.
The IDF’s delegation arriving in Florida to assist in the search for survivors after the condo collapse.
IDF

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the mission to Florida was approved in coordination with the Foreign Ministry.

“As with any national mission, the IDF and the defense establishment are ready to respond, act and assist. Every effort will be made to save lives, support the Jewish community and our friend the United States,” Gantz said, the Israeli outlet reported.

The team — part of the “Helping Hand” operation — was joined by Israel’s United Hatzalah, a Jerusalem-based volunteer emergency service, which sent a delegation of six psychological assistance workers to help the affected families.

Crews from the United States and Israel work in the rubble Champlain Towers South condo, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.
Crews from the United States and Israel work in the rubble of Champlain Towers South on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Surfside, Florida.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Members of the Israel Rescuers delegation prepare to search the area where the Florida condo collapsed.
Members of the Israel rescuers delegation prepare to search the area where the Florida condo collapsed.
GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who also arrived at the tragic site, noted that the widely respected unit’s members “have been all over the world in many similar situations.”

“We will do whatever we can to help the Americans in any way they deem fit,” Shai told the Jerusalem Post. “America can learn from Israeli experience. Unfortunately, we have too much experience with disasters.”  

Delegation official Elad Edri said the team held out hope for a miracle.

“We are here to bring hope. After the earthquake in Haiti, we rescued someone after 108 hours. So there is still a chance,” Edri said, though that timeframe has already elapsed.

The Israeli teams have traveled across the world to provide rescue and medical services over the years.

The IDF teams responded to an earthquake in Turkey in 1999, an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, a typhoon in the Philippines in 2013, a quake in Nepal in 2015, an earthquake in Mexico in 2017, and most recently to Equatorial Guinea after massive explosions on a military base in March killed over 100 people and injured hundreds.

Meanwhile, the international unit of the Magen David Adom, Israel’s EMS service, joined paramedics and EMTs with the South Florida Hatzalah at the disaster site.

Family members of those reported missing ask Joseph Dahan (R), an EMT with Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency organization, on how to join other families to view the site of the collapsed building.
Family members of those reported missing ask Joseph Dahan (right), an EMT with Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency organization, on how to join other families to view the site of the collapsed building.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“I came to Miami to connect the community and families to the forces at the scene and in Israel and help in any way possible during the crisis,” MDA paramedic Uriel Goldberg, who arrived from Israel, told the Times of Israel.

“The teams work around the clock with great commitment, while being careful in a complex and dangerous scene and in very complex field conditions,” he added.

Eli Beer, president and founder of United Hatzalah, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel’s El Al airlines fully sponsored the flights for the team to the Sunshine State.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the mission to assist in the Florida rescue was approved in coordination with the Foreign Ministry.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the mission to assist in the Florida rescue was approved in coordination with the Foreign Ministry.
MAYA ALLERUZZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“This will be the fourth emergency relief mission conducted by our Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit in the United States in as many years,” Beer told the news outet.

“I myself was the benefactor of the kindness of the entire South Florida community during my fight with COVID-19 last year and if I were able to go myself on this mission, I would,” Beer said.

“I am sending my best people on this mission in order to provide as much help as we can. We stand with you and we are sending you the best of the best to help. They will be there as soon as regulations permit us to arrive,” he added.

Minister Dr Nachman Shai, Israel Minister of Diaspra Affairs, speaking after arriving in Florida.
Dr. Nachman Shai, Israel minister of Diaspora affairs, speaks after arriving in Florida.
Robert Miller

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett described a meeting between the Israelis and families of the missing.

“They wanted to know if the Israeli team thought that the Miami-Dade team had been doing the right thing,” Burkett said, Reuters reported. “The commander from the Israeli team did not hesitate, turned around and said, ‘They’ve been doing exactly the right thing.’”

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