Australia, Israel mark 10th anniversary of deadly Maccabiah bridge disaster

Representatives of World Maccabi and Australian Ambassador James Larsen, together with other Australians in Israel, will gather in Ramat Gan on Friday morning to mark the 10th anniversary of the Maccabiah bridge disaster. The bridge's collapse took the lives of four members of the Australian Maccabiah team and left 60 others injured. Criminal negligence, in the construction of a footbridge that was too light to hold the hundreds of people who were scheduled to march across it at the opening ceremony of the 1997 Maccabiah Games, resulted in the deaths of Greg Small, Elizabeth Sawicki, Yetty Bennett and Warren Zines. The bridge collapsed just as the Australian team was crossing it, and most of the team members were thrown into the polluted waters of the Yarkon River. The effects continue to have a negative effect on the health of many of those who inadvertently swallowed water from the river. It took three years, a tremendous amount of lobbying and a lot of bad publicity in the Australian and Israeli media before an Israeli court convicted five people who shared responsibility for the tragedy: contractors Baruch Karagula and Yehoshua Ben-Ezra; Adam Mishori, the CEO of Irgunit, the firm that subcontracted them; the bridge's engineer, Mich Bar-Ilan; and Yoram Eyal, the head of the Maccabiah Games organizing committee. Maccabi World Union chairman Uzi Netanel resigned several hours after the verdict was made public. Civil suits were filed by several Australian athletes demanding compensation for injuries, mental anguish and loss of income. The most highly publicized of these suits was that of tennis player Sasha Elterman, whose father, Colin. Sasha underwent more than 30 operations. Israeli government representatives who went to Australia for a variety of reasons during the period that the case was pending made a point of going to visit Sasha Elterman. Officially, the 10th anniversary of the Maccabiah bridge disaster falls on Saturday. Memorial prayers will be recited in synagogues in Sydney and Melbourne. In Israel, in addition to speeches to be delivered by various officials, messages from the families of the deceased will be read out.