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16 Dec, 2008 12:31

24 Russians die in Israel bus crash

24 Russian tourists from St.-Petersburg died after the bus they were in drove into a ravine in the south of Israel. Over 40 people were injured. 28 of the victims, at least ten of them in grave condition, were taken to the nearest hospital.

An Emergencies Ministry Yakovlev-42 jet delivered the first group of relatives of the survivors of the crash to Tel Aviv Wednesday. They were accommodated at hotels and then taken to hospitals where the injured are being treated.

A second group of relatives is due to fly to Tel Aviv on Thursday. On the same day the Ministry will send a cargo Il-76 plane to collect the bodies of the victims and bring them back to Russia.

However, some of the bodies will be transported from Tel Aviv to St Petersburg by an Israeli plane already on Wednesday.

“Everything possible is being done to help the injured. Most of them are still in Yofeftal Hospital in the city of Eilat, some of them are being airlifted to neighbouring hospitals. The Russian Embassy in Israel is working hard to monitor this situation,” said Pyotr Stegny, Russia’s ambassador to Israel.

The employees of five Russian travel agencies were taking a tour around Israel to learn more about the hotels and sights they will offer to their customers. The trip was organized by an Israeli tour-operator.

The accident happened not far from the Egyptian border, near the resort city of Eilat. According to some eyewitnesses, the driver was overtaking at a dangerous bend.

The driver, who had his safety belt fastened, has survived. He has been taken to hospital along with the other injured.

It has been suggested that even if the bus had not fallen into the ravine, it would have had an accident anyway. Another bus was driving on the opposite side and it would have been almost impossible to pass each other safely.

After the accident, 40 Israeli ambulances rushed to the scene and the country's air force dispatched six helicopters to evacuate those seriously wounded to hospitals across the country.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have offered condolences to the families of the victims. In a phone conversation Israeli President Shimon Peres has informed his Russian counterpart about the help being provided to the injured. Peres instructed Israeli emergency services to cooperate closely with the Russian side.

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has also expressed deep condolences in connection with the accident. According to her press service she contacted by phone St. Petersburg’s governor Valentina Matvienko and promised any help needed.

The spokesperson of the Israeli embassy to Russia, Alex Goldman-Shaiman, described the accident as one of the worst road crashes in Israeli history and says all possible reasons for it will be investigated, including driver error, technical problems and road defects.

Two information hotlines for relatives of the crash victims have been set-up:

Russian Embassy hotline: +9723-522-6744, +9723-5226736.
Israeli Ministry of Tourism hotline: +972-2-666-43-58.

Deadly record in other countries

Egypt, Turkey and Thailand are popular destinations among tourists, Russians included. But it’s not rare that the perfect get-a-way turns into a nightmare. 

Poor road conditions, overworked drivers and a lack of safety regulations, as well as other factors, have led to frequent road crashes in these countries.

Egypt has seen some of the worst accidents involving tourists. This year alone there have been at least nine crashes with multiple deaths. The most recent was in October, when six Belgians were killed en route from the southern city of Aswan to the ancient temple of Abu Simbel. 26 others were injured in the incident. At the time, speeding was blamed for the tragedy.

Turkey has also gained a bad reputation. In November, four tourists died and 25 were injured when their bus crashed on the way to Georgia.

In Thailand road fatality rate are also high. The country's accident research group says 13,000 people die in road crashes each year – that's approximately two people every hour. The government says 336 people died in traffic accidents last New Year in just four days.