How Did The IDF Delegation Recover 81 Of 98 Surfside Victims?

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3D model of the disaster site created by the IDF; Commander of the IDF's National Rescue Unit Lt. Col. Golan Vach at the Champlain disaster site. (Photos: IDF)

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Israel’s IDF National Rescue Unit recovered 81 of the 98 victims at the site of the collapsed Champlain Towers, The Palm Beach Post reported on Tuesday. The commander of the rescue unit, Lt. Col. Golan Vach, personally found 20 of the victims.

How did the unit accomplish this remarkable achievement? The Post reached out to Vach at his home in Beit Rimon in northern Israel to discover the unique knowledge the IDF team brought to the site.

Vach started at the beginning, saying that when his team arrived in Florida at 8 a.m. on Sunday, June 27, the morning of the fourth day of rescue efforts, they weren’t scheduled to begin work until noon but nevertheless they went straight to the site of the disaster.

“It’s like a race where most of the runners began a few seconds ahead and you are trying to catch them,” he said.

Half of Vach’s team immediately began seeking out the relatives of the missing to gather information as the precise details provided by the family members are crucial to rescue efforts.

The other half of the team went to the rubble where they found rescue workers digging in spots where the search dogs were barking. Vach said that according to his vast experience, rescuers need a “much wider methodology to try to evaluate where exactly people were buried in the site.”

Instead of using dogs, his team used a method developed over almost 40 years from experience gained in wars and disasters in Israel and around the world. The Israeli rescuers began collecting information on the structure of the building as well as the victims’ habits and personal possessions, using that information to help locate victims, including in which room each victim was most probably in during the collapse.

They identified dividing lines between floors, the location of columns between units, and the divison of the building’s hallways. Assisted by Vach’s team in Israel, they developed 2-D and 3-D computer models of how the building fell and the location of possible “voids.”

When the models were completed, the rescuers held a collection of digital images in their hands showing exactly where each room was before and after the collapse, with different colors marking bedrooms, dining rooms, kitchens, or hallways. A dark red triangle indicated a spot where the victim was most likely to be found.

Each column, room, and floor was marked on the grid of the rubble, with orange paint indicating the ninth floor, blue paint for the second floor, etc. The team also developed a “fragile reality,” mapping how far each victim may have landed from another, enabling them to search with precision for the next victim once one victim was found.

As the search progressed, the team confirmed or altered their models as each victim or personal possession was found. When Vach found a man’s ring, he immediately knew to whom it belonged.

“Each item that they found is an anchor to correct the plan,” Vach said. “If I assume I am on Floor 4 in apartment 404, but I found a blue table, and I know the blue table belonged to Apartment 3, not 4, then something is incorrect, something moved. And I have to correct my plan.”

At one point a dead dog was found and the rescuer was about to discard it.

“I said, “No, no stop!’” Vach said. “Look at this building — according to what we know there were only two dogs. One was a pit bull and one was a big gray dog. Each dog belonged to a different apartment. If we know exactly where you found this dog, we can try to correct our plan.”

The Post wrote: “Vach seemed to know every unit number, every resident of Champlain Towers South. At the mention of either, he can identify the other. Unit 1104, Itty and Tzvi Ainsworth. Parents to seven, grandparents to 30.”

Vach said that when he sat with the Ainsworth family: “they were the only family that I described in detail how I found them, extracted them, pulled them out. It’s not easy.”

Two of the victims were found with the help of Vach’s team in Israel. One night, at 4 a.m., Vach found a tiny metal tag with the words: “Rabbi A. D. Davis. He contacted his Israeli team and within 20 minutes they located the rabbi who identified the owner of the tag as Dr. Brad Cohen, z’l.

“So I know I am close to Brad,” Vach said he thought at the time.

“You see a lot of death,” Vach said. “Some do not look like human beings. I tried to treat them as people, as souls. Treat them as if they were my parents.”

“This is the way we were working, like detectives,” Vach said. “You have these simple, brilliant signs. You dig here, and you will find the people you are looking for. And it worked.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

4 COMMENTS

  1. Well, there go those Zionists again showing others how to do things efficiently, probably enabling close relatives to achieve closure and bury their loved ones with dignity.