Two accidents leave emergency crews in Negev with their hands full

Negev-area rescue teams were kept busy Wednesday morning with a train-truck collision and a parachuting accident. In what is becoming a tri-annual routine, an Israel Railways train ploughed into a vehicle stuck on the tracks, but in this case tragedy was narrowly averted, as diesel containers on the vehicle did not ignite, and the train did not derail. A few hours later, two parachutists were seriously injured, as a mechanical error led to their plummeting 30 meters to the ground. The busy morning began shortly after 6 a.m. when police received a report of a collision between a passenger train and a pickup truck approximately one kilometer south of the Aruar Junction. Rescuers who arrived on the scene discovered that the truck's driver was nowhere to be found, and that diesel containers - filled with fuel - were scattered around the crash site. The train was carrying 16 passengers en route from Dimona to Beersheba, and to the rescuers' pleasant surprise, all of the train's passengers were healthy and accounted for. When police checked the pickup truck's license, they discovered that the owner was a resident of a nearby Beduin encampment. They found the truck's 25-year-old driver at his home. Initially, some investigators were concerned that the apparent accident could have been a terror attack planned at striking the train, but that theory was ruled out after the truck's driver was questioned both by police and by Shin Bet representatives. Police explosives experts also added that they had ruled out the presence of bombs. The diesel tanks involved were set to be used to refill the generators upon which many homes in local Beduin encampments rely. (Many Beduin areas are not connected to Israel Electric power lines.) When questioned, the truck driver admitted that he had attempted to take a shortcut on his way home from work, and on the way had decided to cross the train tracks at a place neither graded nor marked for vehicle crossings. The truck, he said, became stuck in the sand on the side of the trestles. The driver claimed that he was trying to remove the vehicle from the tracks when he saw the train approaching. Panicked, he fled the scene of the accident. The train's conductor said that there was limited visibility as a result of early morning fog, and that he only saw the vehicle stranded on the tracks approximately 400 meters from the point of collision. He said that he operated the train's emergency brakes, but only succeeded in reducing the speed at which the train hit the vehicle. Police said that the pickup truck's driver's license was suspended for 60 days and that a criminal file was opened against him for crossing railroad tracks at an unmarked crossing. Less than three hours later, MDA Negev-area rescue teams received reports that a light airplane had crashed not far from Kushi Rimon's famous road stop at the 101st kilometer of the Arava Road. Emergency teams that set out to the scene discovered that it was not a plane but a motorized two-person paraglider that had crashed. Witnesses said that it seemed that the cables connecting to the parachute had somehow become disconnected mid-flight, sending the pilot and the passenger plummeting approximately 30 meters to the ground. Rescue teams arriving on the scene were forced to administer CPR to the paragliding passenger, who suffered massive injuries to his head and chest. The pilot suffered from multiple open fractures. The two were evacuated by helicopter to Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center, where the conditions of both of the paragliders were stabilized. The pilot was reported to be in good-to-moderate condition, awaiting additional operations to begin to rehabilitate an injured arm. The passenger, however, was less fortunate. He remained unconscious and respirated, in serious but stable condition in the Beersheba hospital's Intensive Care Unit.