Israeli rescue team joins the desperate search for survivors in Florida building collapse

Some of the American first responders on scene trained two years ago in Israel.
Search an Rescue personnel in Surfside, Florida

In one of the first international efforts from the newly installed government in Jerusalem, search and rescue specialists from Israel are working alongside their American counterparts — many of whom they trained — hoping to find people alive in the rubble from a collapsed Florida building.

A portion of the 12-story, 130-unit Champlain Towers South Condo crumpled in the early hours of June 24 in Surfside, leaving 11 known dead, 11 injured, and 150 missing as of Monday night. The aftermath left a massive gash along one side of the 40-year-old building — and emergency responders racing the clock in a search for anyone buried alive beneath piles of concrete.

The rescue teams included a delegation from Israel, where Home Front Command engineers from the Israel Defense Force have developed expertise in finding survivors amid catastrophe.

"We learned it the hard way, from necessity," one IDF officer told Just the News. "We put that knowledge to use, to help save lives."

The 10-member delegation arrived on Sunday in Florida, along with Israel's new Diaspora Affairs Minister, Nachman Shai. 

"I was instructed by the prime minister to check what the needs are and tell you that we are here and ready," Shai told Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. "There are no limits to what we are ready to offer. We brought you our best people."

Team members hold out hope that people will be found alive in the rubble, according to the group's leader, Col. Golan Vach.

"There is a chance," Vach told Israeli television. While searching for people after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the team found a man alive after 100 hours, Vach said. "We still have hope, but this site is very complicated, and I hope that we will find someone."

American teams on the ground in Surfside include searchers who trained in Israel, according to Israeli paramedic Uriel Goldberg.

"Two years ago we held a conference in Israel, where we train them on this kind of disaster," such as buildings that are destroyed in earthquakes, Goldberg said in an interview with Israeli television. "Some of the first responders here were actually at the conference and used the skills which they learned in Israel, to save lives in the first minutes and hours before our teams arrived." 

In years past, Israel has sent rescue teams to help in the aftermath of disasters around the world. These include 1985 and 2017 earthquakes in Mexico City; a 1994 Hezbollah terror attack in Buenos Aires; and a 2012 collapsed department store in Accra, Ghana.

The effort in Surfside is particularly poignant for Israel because the community has a large Jewish population.

"We are very connected to the Jews, but we didn't come because of the Jews," Vach said. "We came because people are here, lost their families, lost their relatives, lost their loved ones." 

Vach and his team met on Monday with family members, and explained methods and challenges in the search. Among the challenges are shifting debris, and keeping the building stable. 

The team also offered encouragement, telling families that the team is highly experienced, and will put its expertise to good use.

"You are in good hands," Vach told family members on Monday, "I can assure you."