Israelis hold vigil over hiker's body

Dror Scheck, 23, murdered in northern India; terrain presented obstacle.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
For the friends of Israeli backpacker Dror Sheck, his death was only the beginning of the tragedy. Almost 40 hours after finding Sheck, 23, stabbed and fatally wounded in northern India Sunday where the group was hiking, they were still guarding his body from Indian authorities, who wanted to conduct an autopsy. For hours, the Israelis tried to call for help rescuing their friend's body. Angry and exhausted, they complained in interviews to Israeli radio stations about the insurance company's failure to scramble a helicopter and the lack of assistance from the Israeli embassy. After a long wait, Clal Health Insurance Company informed the backpackers that a rescue team would start evacuating Sheck before dawn. Local police told Israel's ambassador to India, David Danieli, that they suspected Sheck had been robbed, then murdered, after he apparently separated from his friends. Sheck was trekking with a group of 10-15 Israelis in India's Parvati Valley, located in the Himachal Pradesh state of northern India, a favorite - but isolated and dangerous - region for backpackers and tourists. Most roads in the Parvati Valley are narrow and often badly paved. Kiriganga, the closest village, where Sheck's friends carried his body, is situated 3,500 meters above sea level. The biggest city in the area is Dharamsala, populated mostly by Tibetan monks. Yuval Fogel, who had been hiking with Sheck these past last eight months, said his friend's body was found on a cliff. "This is a village with no electricity, and there's hardly any reception for cellular phones," he told Army Radio. Fogel added that "resuscitation attempts were made for an hour, after cuts were found on his body." Avigail Mageli, another member of the group, told Israel Radio that Indian policemen wanted to carry the body on foot down a sloping road so narrow "two people cannot walk side by side." Mageli said a helicopter had been scrambled to the area, but landed seven hours' walking distance from the scene. "What is happening here is lack of respect," she said. "No one here or in Israel is helping us." Mageli said that she and Sheck had known each other since elementary school. She said the group "could not believe what was happening to [them.]" Danieli, meanwhile, said that the group had been hiking in one of the most "problematic" areas of India. "The topographic conditions are very difficult and the problem was that a helicopter couldn't land there and evacuate the body," Danieli told The Jerusalem Post. "Tourists from all over the world come to this magical place that's also known for its dangerous history. Gangs of criminals and drug dealers wander around in this isolated area and can commit a crime and disappear," Danieli said. Danieli added that two years ago, another young Israeli, Daniel Mountviten, disappeared in the same area after leaving his room in the morning for a short walk. Five years ago, Guy Daudi, another Israeli, disappeared in the same area after injuring his leg while trekking with his girlfriend in the Phulgri Forest above Manali. Yael Ravia-Zadok, head of Israeli media relations in the Foreign Ministry, said Monday that Sheck's insurance company was taking care of retrieving the body. "They found him lying in an abyss and when they finally reached him, they discovered he was seriously injured. They carried his body to the nearby village and informed the Israeli embassy in New Delhi and his insurance company," Ravia-Zadok said. "Sheck's family received the bad news on Sunday night. A rescue team is on way by foot to evacuate the body to a place where a helicopter can land and bring it to an international airport and from there, we hope, to Israel." Ravia-Zadok also reminded Israeli backpackers not to go on these sorts of trips without purchasing insurance, including rescue services. Clal Health reported Monday afternoon that a rescue team was on its way. "[The evacuation] is expected to take hours. The rescue is done in accordance with local authorities, who are involved in a case of suspected murder," a representative said. Clal Health said it had informed Sheck's family that Indian authorities were interested in an autopsy, and that it was obligated to act as the local law demanded. Sheck was born in Haifa and served in an elite unit in the IDF. "He was a smiling, responsible and cautious young man. He was everything you expect a child to be," said Doron Sheck, Dror's uncle, in a TV interview. "Dror planned to come back to Israel in two weeks. He had a job waiting for him and wanted to start studying." Doron said he asked Israeli tourists abroad to be patient and moderate. "Don't trust anyone, so what happened to Dror - who lost his life over a few dollars - will not happen to you," Doron said.