Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Dead Sea bus tragedy: Head teacher and tour company sentenced

The owner of Victoria College Schools was acquitted of all charges and it was ruled that three employees of the Ministry of Education should not be held responsible

Relatives carry the body of 14-year-old student Hind Azzeh, a victim of a flash flood that swept away a group of middle school students and teachers visiting hot springs near the Dead Sea in 2018. AP
Relatives carry the body of 14-year-old student Hind Azzeh, a victim of a flash flood that swept away a group of middle school students and teachers visiting hot springs near the Dead Sea in 2018. AP

A head teacher and the owners of a tourism company in Jordan have been sentenced to three years in jail for the deaths of dozens of school children swept up in floods while on a school trip almost two years ago.

During the same court hearing on Tuesday in the capital Amman, the owner of Victoria College Schools was acquitted of all charges and it was ruled that three employees of the Ministry of Education should not be held responsible.

The decision is subject to an appeal.

Twenty-two people were killed in October 2018, many of them children, when heavy rains caused flash floods in the Dead Sea region, bringing with them mud, rock and debris. It was a tragedy that made international headlines.

A school trip to the Ma’in hot springs, with 37 middle school pupils and seven teaching staff in attendance, had gone ahead despite repeated official warnings about a heavy storm forecast to hit the kingdom.

According to local witnesses, the disastrous weather struck at around 3pm and washed away their school bus.

The raging waters dragged the school's wards, as well as families picnicking in the area at the time, down the valley and, in some cases, into the Dead Sea. Some were carried as far as four or five kilometres, the civil defence's Brig Gen Farid Al Sharaa said at the time. He said others managed to survive by clinging to rocks and that 13 people had escaped without injury.

Jordan’s Prime Minister Omar Razzaz attended the scene of the disaster to help direct rescue efforts, which covered an area of 10km and included Israeli helicopters, marine divers and sniffer dogs combing the rocky terrain.

Search and rescue teams continued into the night and bodies were still being discovered the following morning.

At the time, Mr Razzaz said an investigation would be launched after the conditions for the trip agreed between the school and the Ministry of Education had not been adhered to.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Azmi Mahafzah had told state-run Jordan TV that the group had not only ignored official warnings, but the spot they had chosen to have lunch in at the water’s edge was also a prohibited area.

Jordan's King Abdullah II also cancelled a trip to Bahrain at the time to follow the rescue efforts.

There was major flooding and hailstones in Amman, as well as other parts of the country.

The Dead Sea region is the lowest point on earth and the deep wadis in the area make it prone to flooding.

Following the tragedy, the government announced a raft of new measures to be implemented to prevent a similar incidents happening in future, including a ban on adventure trips being offered to schools.

They also proposed regular infrastructure inspections, improved co-ordination between emergency operation institutions, the installation of flood barriers and improved weather forecast warnings.

Updated: July 28, 2020 07:33 PM

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