A bridge leading to a stadium collapsed just prior to opening ceremonies for an international sports competition Monday, hurling dozens of Jewish athletes into a river. Two people died and 64 others were injured, some seriously.
The bridge, a temporary span decorated with Israeli flags, crumpled while athletes were gathering for the start of the 15th Maccabiah games, an Olympic-style event that drew about 5,600 Jewish athletes this year.
All the victims were from Australia, whose 380-member delegation led the parade of athletes and was the first to cross the 48-foot-high bridge to Ramat Gan stadium.
The dead were identified by the Australian team as Gregory Smalls, 37, and Yetty Bennett, 50, both 10-pin bowlers from Sydney. Seven of the injured were in serious condition, police said.
About 100 athletes were on the span when it gave way, Australian team manager Harry Purcell said.
“We heard a crack, and a second crack, and all of a sudden the bridge collapsed,” Purcell said. “People were falling on top of each other.”
Athletes linked arms to pull each other to safety from the Yarkon River. Many suffered broken arms and ankles when they became entangled in the bridge’s metal beams.
About 20 ambulances rushed to the scene and helicopters hovered overhead trying to spot survivors in the shallow river, while divers searched for victims. Green hats worn by the Australian delegation washed up on the muddy banks of the river.
Rescue efforts were slowed by the river’s steep banks, which forced rescue workers to use ropes to descend to the water. Two of the injured were policemen involved in the rescue effort, a police spokeswoman said.
Police chief Assaf Hefetz said the collapse was “absolutely not sabotage.”
The opening ceremonies, attended by about 45,000 people, began after a half-hour delay, even as the search continued for victims outside.
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