Quake: Israeli men identified as victims by a sister

By Hamish Fletcher

Childhood friends Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy came to New Zealand because of their love of nature. Photo / Supplied
Childhood friends Gabi Ingel and Ofer Levy came to New Zealand because of their love of nature. Photo / Supplied

When news arrived that Israeli backpackers Gabi Moshe Ingel and Ofer Levy were missing after last Tuesday's earthquake, their home country was quick to act.

The men, both 22, were seen checking out of a hostel in Manchester St 15 minutes before the quake.

A privately funded search and rescue team was quickly dispatched and touched down in Christchurch in the days following the tremors.

But the 11-strong team was denied the chance to search for the pair as Foreign Minister Murray McCully said they lacked the proper credentials.

"Civil Defence requirements for Usar teams were that they be self-deploying, self-sustaining and United Nations-accredited.

"Civil Defence officials therefore declined the private Israeli offer, and other similar non-accredited offers of assistance," Mr McCully said.

Despite this, the team stayed in New Zealand, constantly requesting to join officials to look for the pair.

However, the group's hopes of finding the men alive were dashed when Ofer's sister, Michal Levy, identified their bodies yesterday afternoon.

Ms Levy cut short her holiday in India to come and look for her brother and his childhood friend.

The men's families waited in Israel, desperate to hear from their loved ones.

Ofer's father, Moti Levy, told the Herald before hearing news of his son's death that he would not give up hope until his body was found.

The men had been friends since their school days and grew up in the town of Rehovot, near the financial hub of Tel Aviv.

Their holiday to New Zealand was their big trip overseas after finishing their compulsory military service in Israel.

Ms Levy said the two young men were "clean souls" and came to travel in New Zealand because they had a love of nature.

"Others go to South America, India, Australia, but they came to travel for a few months in New Zealand," she said.

"Gabi came first and he convinced Ofer to come to New Zealand. [Ofer] was thinking of going to Cuba but decided to join his best friend."

Mr Levy was the youngest of four children and his family's only son.

Before coming to New Zealand, he had just finished painting his vintage Volkswagen Beetle a "shocking lime green".

"He loved that car so much, he wouldn't let us touch it.

"He was putting all his money into buying new things for it. It was his obsession," Ms Levy said.

Mr Levy was a musician as well as a keen athlete, she said.

"He was always doing martial arts, or mountain biking. He was also a saxophone player, like me, his older sister.

"We used to play together, he played the alto, I played the tenor.

"He was a real gentleman, a remarkable person," she said.

One other Israeli citizen, Ofer Mizrahi, also died in the quake after debris fell on the car he was driving.

- NZ Herald

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