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Games resume amid accusations over bridge collapse

July 16, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ The Maccabiah Games resumed today amid accusations that a bridge that collapsed during the competition’s opening ceremony was built by a contractor who was not licensed to do the work.

Two Australian athletes were killed when the 65-foot-long span buckled Monday, throwing dozens of people into the Yarkon River. In all 64 people were injured, and seven remained in serious condition today.

The engineer who approved the bridge, Micha Bar-Illan, was under house arrest after being questioned by police Tuesday, Israel radio reported today. Police refused to comment on the report.

The contractor, Ben-Ezra Kargula, was to be questioned today, the radio said.

The bridge, a temporary span into the Ramat Gan stadium constructed for the games, did not have the required permits and was anchored to the ground only with metal wire, newspaper reports said.

Yoav Sarni, chairman of the Engineers Association, said the bridge’s engineering was ``miserable.″

``They simply laid the metal bridge on the ground as if it was a stage prop and not a bridge that would have to bear pedestrians,″ he told Israel radio.

Sarni said the contractor hired to build the bridge was not listed as a licensed bridge builder. He blamed the organizers of the Maccabiah Games for failing to hire supervisors.

``If there had been supervision, the supervisor would have warned that the job had been given to a contractor who does not have a permit to do it,″ Sarni said.

Bar-Illan, the engineer who approved the bridge, told Israel TV the span had been built to hold no more than 100 people.

``I insisted, and the client agreed, that a man would be posted at the entrance to the bridge and would not allow more than 100 people onto it at any one time,″ he told Israel TV.

Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani said he did not know of any such restriction.

Video shot just before the collapse showed the Australian athletes coming onto the bridge en masse, and no one was visible counting them. Israel TV said nearly all of the 380 members Australian team were on the bridge when it fell. However, eyewitnesses put the number at about 100.

The Israeli army corps of engineers reportedly had offered to build the bridge for $85,700, but lost out to a private company that bid $20,000 for the job.

The games were called off for 24 hours to mourn the dead and injured athletes. They resumed this morning.

The Maccabiah Games have competitions in 36 sports ranging from lawn bowling to hockey. The U.S. delegation includes about 600 athletes.

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