‘There Is Always Hope’: Israeli Rescue Unit Continues to Help Search for Survivors of Surfside Condo Collapse
by Sharon Wrobel
The Israeli national rescue unit continued to relentlessly search for survivors in the tons of rubble of the collapsed Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, Florida, as the confirmed death toll from the tragedy continued to rise on Wednesday.
The Israeli rescue operation “Helping Hand,” which arrived 72 hours after the disaster, is led by the commander of the National Rescue Unit in the IDF’s Home Front Command, Col. (res.) Golan Vach and consists of 10 reserve officers who are top experts in engineering and social care. Over the past few days, another five officers joined the delegation.
“We are working tirelessly with everyone. There is always hope that someone is still alive. That is our assumption and we work accordingly,” said one of the Israeli reserve officers during a briefing.
Search-and-rescue operations have been ongoing at the site of the 12-floor building since its partial collapse on June 24, identifying at least 16 dead so far with another 147 still unaccounted for.
“As we saw things unfold we quickly made a decision and within five hours we were already on the plane,” said Vach. “Since we arrived, we have extensively worked in two shifts of 12-hours each.”
The added value that Israel’s rescue team can bring to the Miami Surfside site is experience using visual technology and population intelligence information, according to the IDF. In an effort to make the search more accurate and efficient, the Israeli delegation is speaking with the families of the missing in order to find out where or in which room of their apartments they might have been when disaster struck.
“The building collapsed unusually as it collapsed from outside into itself, in four parts, one floor caved into another creating a particularly challenging area for rescuers dealing with tens of floors on top of each other,” Vach said.
In comparison, following an earthquake, buildings usually fall on one side or backwards — which makes it easier to find people.
To help locate the missing persons at the site, the operational analysis team of the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate’s “Unit 9900,” which specializes in visual intelligence, built a three-dimensional (3-D) model to replicate the way the 40-year-old building collapsed.
“We analyzed the collapsed building and built a three-dimensional model of the structure,” said an IDF commander of the Intelligence Directorate’s 9900 unit. “Our model will allow the Home Front Command delegation to further assist in the rescue efforts and navigate through the rubble more quickly and effectively.”
Staff from the Israeli Consulate, headed by the Consul General, are also working with local authorities, families and heads of the Jewish community to identify other ways to help, such as offering emotional support for families and the community at large.
Israel has learned from decades of experience in helping countries struck by natural disasters. Since the 1980s, Israel has sent 30 delegations from the IDF and Home Front Command to provide search-and-rescue aid to countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, Turkey, and Nepal.