Emergency responders who arrived at the scene of a burning minivan at the entrance to Tiberias early Tuesday could not believe their eyes.

The bodies of eight members of a single family, pulled out of the smoking wreckage, lay side by side.

Minutes before, the brakes of the Mitsubishi van suffered a catastrophic failure and the vehicle plummeted off the road at a sharp turn, flipping into a 30-meter ditch and catching fire.

Just one young survivor escaped the tragic accident: seven-year-old Rahel, who was flung out of the van’s window because she was not wearing a seat belt.

Parents Rafi and Yehudit Atias, both 42, died in the accident along with children Avia, 17; twins Shimon and Elyshav, 16; Shira, 11; Tair, 9; and Noa, 5, from the small village of Bar Yochai.

“I tried to wake up mom and dad, but they won’t wake up,” Rahel told Magen David Adom paramedics who held her in their arms.

“I’m scared to sleep alone. Don’t leave me alone,” she said, before being rushed to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa for treatment. She is in moderate condition, suffering from bruising and scrapes.

Prior to the crash, the parents realized they were in trouble after Rafi, who was behind the wheel, pressed down on the brakes but got no response. He then made a frantic telephone call to the police. As the van, heading northbound, picked up speed, Rafi passed the phone to his wife, who pleaded for help.

Police tried to get the driver to pull up his hand brake, but the vehicle continued to hurtle forward. As the police operator continued to try to help, she dispatched a police unit to the area. The operator then heard shouts on the other line and the sounds of a collision.

Then the phone went dead.

The Atias family was a wellknown pillar of its community in Bar Yochai and Migdal Ha’emek.

Hours before the crash, the family was in Migdal Ha’emek, celebrating a Torah dedication at a synagogue in the name of Rafi’s father, the rabbi Shimon Atias.

Arthur Minzer was at that celebration.

“They were happy and dancing. It was something,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “It was a true celebration with fireworks. The science [and technology] minister [Daniel Herschkowitz] and the mayor of Migdal Ha’emek were also there.”

Minzer, who photographed the happy scenes, got a phone call from Herschkowitz’s spokesman on Tuesday morning, and learned of the tragedy.

“I simply could not believe it was them. It can’t be. I was with them until 10:30 last night. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

“They were such a good family,” he added. “They were very well known and respectable.”

Minzer said the family may have decided to take a detour on their way home and pass by Tiberias to visit a sage’s tomb.

“That’s what we think, but we can’t be sure,” he said.

Rahel, the only survivor, woke up in the morning at the hospital, and quickly grasped what had happened. She is receiving psychological care and is surrounded by extended family who are trying to ease her shock.

The family has been buried at the Safed cemetery.

Police are due to investigate the road safety test center, which approved the minivan for road use despite the condition of the brakes. An initial investigation by Traffic Police found that the vehicle’s brakes were worn down.

According to Traffic Police figures made available to the Post, 116 people were killed in accidents this year prior to the tragic crash. In 2011, 142 were killed between January and May – 26 more casualties.

“We will learn lessons from this terrible disaster,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said. “It happened specifically during a year when there was a dramatic fall in the number of accidents.”

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