3rd Opinion: Evacuating Israelis from Bulgaria
The need to send an Israeli medical team was evident as soon as news arrived of the bombing of a bus carrying Israelis.
Israeli survivor is carried on a wheelchair after burgas bomb Photo: REUTERS
The need to send an on-site Israeli medical team was evident as soon as the news
arrived about the bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas,
Bulgaria, last Wednesday.
The urgency stemmed from the difficulty to
obtain accurate information on the number of casualties or the nature of their
injuries, as well as from the considered opinion that the capabilities of
available hospital services were inadequate to deal with the complicated
situation of mass casualties and the severity of their injuries in that
out-of-the-way resort area.
Post factum, it is important to acknowledge
that the medical response of the hospital in Burgas to a complex situation it
had never before encountered was outstanding.
Its conversion from a
resort town’s first response medical station to a “triage” medical operation was
excellent. The staff correctly evaluated the clinical situation of each
casualty, and capably orchestrated the immediate evacuation of the three most
severely injured among them to tertiary hospitals in the capital city of Sofia,
thus almost certainly saving their lives.
The prompt organization of
combined Magen David Adom and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center resources that
facilitated the rapid recruitment of a group of paramedics and senior trauma and
intensive care physicians enabled the dispatch of a medical delegation in a
record time of five hours after the bomb exploded.
Burgas Airport was
closed for all flights after the event and reopened exclusively for the incoming
flights of our medical delegation.
At the entrance to the terminal, we
were met by a group of about 80 Israelis from the three buses that did not
explode but who choose to cancel their vacation and fly back to Israel. Our
deplaning was greeted by their heartwarming applause, reminiscent of other
similar events from the past when a vanguard Israeli crew joined Israelis in
trouble on foreign soil.
We landed in Burgas Airport around
midnight. The airport was empty and it felt as if time had stopped after
the explosion. There were scraps of blood-stained bandages under the seats where
some of the wounded had been treated and outside, near the terminal exit, we
could glimpse the sooty skeleton of the exploded bus. There was some
understandable confusion among the Bulgarian officials who were responsible for
admitting us into the country under such extraordinary circumstances, but a bus
arrived for us around one hour later and, after another delay until the arrival
of the security escort that was in place as a precaution against the possibility
of more terrorists waiting outside, we were on our way to the hospital where
most of the casualties had been brought and were being treated.
hospital entrance, we were met by the local Chabad rabbi whom I had seen
explaining the situation on Israeli television before our departure. He offered
his services to take us to the Israeli wounded.
Instead, I chose to first
meet with the hospital management as a courtesy as well as to obtain reliable
professional information about the status of the hospitalized patients. I
reasoned that it was essential to create the all-important direct lines of
professional communication, as well as establish a respectful and collaborative
relationship, all of which are so critical in such delicate
The language barrier turned out to be more difficult than we
had expected. Almost no one spoke English and the very few who did were
difficult to understand. The situation was saved by a young woman who was
fluent in English: She met us at the hospital entrance and offered her
Her name was Kalina Krumova, and she accompanied us throughout the
small hours of the night and into the morning. We eventually discovered
that at 27 years of age, she was the youngest a member of the Bulgarian
parliament. She was a native of the city of Burgas and hurried there from Sofia
to provide any assistance that she could as soon as she had heard about the
terrorist attack. She became known in the Israeli media as the “Angel from
Burgas” and, I hope, she will be invited to Israel as an honored guest so that
the nation can thank her for extending her help to the Israeli casualties and to
those of us in the medical delegation.
After we had examined all of the
casualties, we discovered that most of the injuries ranged from mild to moderate
in degree, and that the three severely wounded casualties had already been
evacuated to tertiary hospitals in the capital city by the quick thinking local
AT FIRST, the local hospital staff and management were
understandably suspicious and even a little hostile to what they may have
perceived as an “Israeli takeover.”
However, our focused efforts to
dissuade those suspicions started to pay off, and soon there were more and more
smiles all around. We even had some discussions on the management of a
moderately injured victim, a 20-year-old who was hospitalized in their
With dawn, a virtual armada of Red Cross ambulances was waiting at
the entrance of the hospital, ready to move patients to the airport, where, in
perfect timing, two Israel Air Force Hercules airplanes had just
landed. Each of the Israeli wounded was escorted from the hospital room
to the ambulance by a MDA paramedic and asked to which hospital in Israel he/she
wished to be sent after landing. This information was channeled to the MDA
control room in Israel so that an ambulance would be waiting to transport
him/her to the designated hospital upon landing in Israel.
The convoy of
ambulances from the hospital in Sofia to the airport was secured by the police,
and two police motorcycles cleared the traffic en route. Large groups of
Bulgarian citizens lined the roads as if they came to salute the Israelis. It
was later reported that many Bulgarians came to the hospital and offered to
donate blood for the Israeli casualties. We are reminded that Bulgaria was one
of the very few countries that resisted the deportation of Jews during World War
At the airport, the experience on the tarmac was both fascinating and
exciting. The sight of the two enormous airplanes surrounded by the Israel Air
Force’s elite 699 Airborne Rescue And Evacuation Unit teams who were busy with
the admission and boarding of the wounded resounds with a national commitment
that knows no bounds. The Bulgarians who were with us in the security zone of
the airport, among them the young parliament member, were surprised at the
lengths to which the State of Israel will go to aid its citizens hit by
They were clearly amazed, touched and appreciative. Three
hours later, the planes were in the air with 34 wounded Israelis – less than 24
hours from the moment they were injured – and in Israeli hands on their way
Dr. Gabi Barbash, the CEO of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center,
headed the Israeli medical delegation to Burgas.