Secret Israeli army unit creates 3D images of Miami condo collapse to work out where victims may be

The Israeli military has created 3D images of the Miami condo and then collapsed them to help rescuers identify where victims and even survivors might be.

They were developed by Unit 9900, a secret element of the Israel Defense Forces, that gathers geographical data from satellites and planes. 

A team of rescuers from the Israeli army are on the scene of the tragedy at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida where 147 people are still missing.    

‘Based on what the rescuers are finding, including artifacts, and what we gather from the families, the unit created the 3-D modeling that is very accurate,’ said Capt. Uri Jospe, 36, a reserves civilian population officer, in comments to the New York Post.

The Israeli Defense Force has created a 3D map of Champlain Towers South collapse

The Israeli Defense Force has created a 3D map of Champlain Towers South collapse

The Israeli Defense Force has created a 3D map of Champlain Towers South collapse

The map is designed to help rescuers better identify areas where there may be survivors

The map is designed to help rescuers better identify areas where there may be survivors

The map is designed to help rescuers better identify areas where there may be survivors

Unit 9900, a secretive group which is responsible for gathering visual intelligence, spearheaded the creation of the maps

Unit 9900, a secretive group which is responsible for gathering visual intelligence, spearheaded the creation of the maps

Unit 9900, a secretive group which is responsible for gathering visual intelligence, spearheaded the creation of the maps

The unit also made a rendering of what the building looked like before the collapse, to help in comparisons.

‘So that means that we know that if someone was in apartment X, we can try and find their location now,’ Jospe added.

Lt. N, the commander of Unit 9900, said they used ‘advanced technological capabilities’ to help.

‘We analyzed the collapsed building and built a three-dimensional model of the structure,’ Lt. N said in a statement.

‘Our model will allow the Home Front Command delegation to further assist in the rescue efforts and navigate through the rubble more quickly and effectively.

The unit also made a rendering of what the building looked like before the collapse

The unit also made a rendering of what the building looked like before the collapse

The unit also made a rendering of what the building looked like before the collapse

‘We are grateful for the privilege and responsibility to take part in such an important international effort.’ 

Jospe added, ‘That’s how we work, no matter what the chances are, we keep on hoping and we don’t assume anything. We are here to find as many people as possible.’ 

Colonel Golan Vach, head of a unit of the Israel Defense Forces that specializes in search and rescue operations, had never seen a disaster zone like the crumbled condo building in Surfside, Florida, in his more than 20 years of military experience.

Vach’s team, the National Rescue Unit, arrived in Miami early on Sunday, three days after Champlain Tower South partially collapsed without warning while people slept early on Thursday.

Rescue workers work in the rubble of the collapsed building of the Champlain Towers South on Wednesday

Rescue workers work in the rubble of the collapsed building of the Champlain Towers South on Wednesday

Rescue workers work in the rubble of the collapsed building of the Champlain Towers South on Wednesday

Many remain unaccounted for in the disaster in Surfside almost a week later

Many remain unaccounted for in the disaster in Surfside almost a week later

Many remain unaccounted for in the disaster in Surfside almost a week later

Once at the site, they found a massive heap of fragmented concrete and mangled metal, with children’s toys and other personal belongings strewn about. In it, they hoped to find and rescue dozens of missing people in the rubble.

‘It’s one of the most difficult and complicated situations that I’ve ever seen,’ Vach, who has commanded his unit for four years, said on Tuesday.

Joining forces with the hundreds of American first responders and a team of Mexican rescuers, the Israelis have spent every waking hour either sifting through the four-story pile of debris or meeting with the families of the missing, with two- to three-hour breaks for sleep, Vach said.

More than two dozen of those unaccounted for were Jewish and had links to Israel, according to an Israeli official. 

Several families had expressed hope the Israeli team, renowned for skills honed during rescue operations at buildings damaged by warfare, would join the frantic search for survivors.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue help with search along with 7 other task force teams from Florida & the Israeli Task Force

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue help with search along with 7 other task force teams from Florida & the Israeli Task Force

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue help with search along with 7 other task force teams from Florida & the Israeli Task Force

Members of the Israel Rescuers delegation gather upon their arrival in the area near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in the city of Surfside

Members of the Israel Rescuers delegation gather upon their arrival in the area near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in the city of Surfside

Members of the Israel Rescuers delegation gather upon their arrival in the area near the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South condo building in the city of Surfside

To prepare for the operation, Vach said the teams studied the structure of Champlain Tower South while still in Israel and built 3D models of the 40-year-old high-rise. 

The team then carefully replicated the manner in which the tower appeared to have collapsed, aiming to understand how to excavate the site with the highest probability of finding survivors.

‘We are looking for the bedrooms because people were sleeping,’ said Vach, wearing a religious skullcap and army green uniform with an Israeli flag patch on one sleeve.

Vach’s team has consulted with the families to get the best idea of where their relatives might have been within their apartments at the time the building collapsed.

‘Our purpose is to get the first responder to understand, where exactly is he digging?’ he said.

Search and rescue crews at work at sunrise

Search and rescue crews at work at sunrise

Search and rescue crews at work at sunrise

Local search and rescue personnel talk with members of an Israeli team, as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing

Local search and rescue personnel talk with members of an Israeli team, as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing

Local search and rescue personnel talk with members of an Israeli team, as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing

Once they know where they are on the site, the crews must penetrate meters of concrete in an effort to reach the bedrooms and search for possible cavities where survivors may have found a measure of protection, Vach said.

The community has not given up. At a makeshift memorial near the site, someone left a flower pot with orchids and a message inscribed: ‘Estelle, stay strong, come home.’

On the beach, a few hundred meters from the pile of twisted metal and concrete where the tower once stood intact, the word ‘HOPE’ is etched in enormous letters in the sand.

Vach said his conversations with families have been difficult, and his team was committed to being transparent with them as the possibility of finding victims alive grows slimmer.

‘There are minor chances,’ Vach said. ‘I would not say there are no chances.’

At the end of their 12-hour shifts, members of the Israeli team meet to talk and process their laborious task.

‘Sometimes we cry. It’s natural,’ Vach said.

But the team has not given up hope, he stresses, saying that every day it finds new spaces and channels within the layers of debris.

‘Maybe there’s a confined space that somebody left, and somebody is alive in there,’ he said.

Golan Vach, Commander of Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) National Rescue Unit, talks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett close to the rescue site

Golan Vach, Commander of Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) National Rescue Unit, talks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett close to the rescue site

Golan Vach, Commander of Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) National Rescue Unit, talks with Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett close to the rescue site

The Israeli rescue team is expected to return home by the end of the coming weekend. 

The death toll from the Miami condo collapse has now risen to 16 after four more bodies were pulled from the rubble overnight.

Now, almost one week on from the tragedy in the early hours of June 24, 147 people are still missing among the rubble. No survivors have been found since Thursday.

With 147 still unaccounted for and hopes fading that people will be found alive, the disaster is shaping up to be one of the deadliest non-deliberate structural failures in US history. 

The search for victims and survivors has been hampered by numerous challenging factors including the threat of falling debris, heavy rain and wind, and the discovery of deep fires in the rubble over the weekend.

While the search continues, questions continue to mount over what caused the collapse and whether critical failures by building officials left residents in the dangerous tower ahead of its collapse.   

An alarming 2018 structural survey warned of ‘major structural damage’ in the building specifically to the pool area and underground parking garage. 

On Tuesday, just 36 hours before the collapse, a contractor photographed worrying signs of damage in the parking garage. 

The 1981 building was coming up for recertification – a process which is required every 40 years for buildings in Miami Dade.

Fears are now growing over the safety of other buildings in the county.

Miami Dade County officials said they are inspecting 501 buildings that is 40 years or older to make sure none are compromised like Champlain Towers South. 

THE MIAMI CONDO COLLAPSE VICTIMS IDENTIFIED SO FAR

54-year-old Stacie Fang

54-year-old Stacie Fang

54-year-old Stacie Fang

STACIE DAWN FANG

Stacie Dawn Fang, 54, was with her son Jonah Handler, a teenager, when the building collapsed. They lived on the tenth floor. The boy’s small hand waved through the wreckage as a man out walking his dog hurried to the site, climbed through a pile of glass and rebar and promised to get help right away.

Rescuers helped the boy out from under a pile of cement and carried him away on a stretcher to a hospital.

‘There are no words to describe the tragic loss of our beloved Stacie,’ members of her family said in a statement. ‘Many heartfelt words of encouragement and love have served as a much needed source of strength during this devastating time.’

Asked about the boy’s condition, a family friend, Lisa Mozloom told the AP ‘He will be fine. He’s a miracle.’

MANUEL LAFONT

Manuel LaFont, 54

Manuel LaFont, 54

Manuel LaFont, 54

Manuel LaFont, 54, was a proud father, a baseball fan and a business consultant who lived on the building’s eighth floor. 

He had a 10-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter with his ex-wife Adriana LaFont, the Miami Herald reported.

Adriana asked her friends on Facebook to pray the rosary for Manny before his body was found. ‘So many memories inside the walls that are no more today, forever engraved experiences in the heart,’ she wrote.

LaFont, a Houston native, coached his son’s baseball team, the Astros, at North Shore Park, just a mile away from the Champlain. He was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The parish’s school parents gathered Saturday afternoon to pray for LaFont and his neighbors who were still missing.

An alumnus of Sharpstown High School in Houston, LaFont had worked across Latin America and the Caribbean for a manufacturing firm, leading a division focusing on roadway safety that built crash cushions and moveable barriers, the Herald reported.

‘I got into this industry specifically because I don’t want to sell widgets. I want to help people. I want to do something good in this world,’ he said at an industry conference in 2016. ‘When I die, I want to say that my life meant something.’

ANTONIO AND GLADYS LOZANO

Antonio and Gladys Lozano

Antonio and Gladys Lozano

Antonio and Gladys Lozano

Antonio and Gladys Lozano lived on the ninth floor. The two had known each other over 60 years and would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary on July 21.

Their sons told WPLG-TV that the couple had joked neither wanted to die before the other, because neither wanted to live without the other. Their one solace, the brothers said, was that they were together when they died.

Authorities confirmed on Saturday that Antonio, 83, and Gladys, 79, were among the dead.

Sergio Lozano said he had dinner with his parents hours before the collapse. He lived in one of the towers of the complex and could see his parents’ apartment across the way from his. That night, he said the heard a loud noise they thought could be a storm.

‘The building is not there,’ he said he told his wife. ‘My parents’ apartment is not there. It’s gone.’

ANA ORTIZ, HER HUSBAND FRANK AND HER SON LUIZ 

Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez

Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez

Ana Ortiz, left, and her son Luis Bermudez and Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina (right) 

Luis Bermudez, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, had battled with muscular dystrophy for years and used a wheelchair. The 26-year-old man lived with his mother Ana Ortiz on the seventh floor of the Champlain Towers South.  

His father, also named Luis Bermudez, texted the AP saying ‘my son is a hero.’ He also wrote on Facebook that he could not believe he’s gone.

‘Now rest in peace and without any obstacles in heaven,’ he wrote. ‘I will see you soon my Luiyo.’

Ortiz, 46, had just gotten married with Frankie Kleiman. Alex Garcia, the couple’s close friend, told The Miami Herald he had set them up on a blind date. Kleiman lived with his wife and stepson on the same floor as his brother Jay Kleiman, who was in town for a funeral, and their mother Nancy Kress Levin. The Kleimans and their mother are still missing.

50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana's husband

50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana's husband

50-year-old Frank Kleiman, left, was found on Monday. He was Ana’s husband

Ortiz was described as a woman who was committed to giving her son the best possible life.

‘She´s a rock star. And gorgeous,” Garcia told the Herald. “And on top of that a super mom.

FRANK KLEIMAN 

Kleiman, 50, was the husband of Ana Ortiz, whose body was found alongside that of her disabled son, Luiz, over the weekend. 

LEON AND CHRISTINA OLIWKOWICZ

Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening

Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening

Leon Oliwkowicz and his wife Christina were also identified as victims of the tower collapse on Sunday evening 

The couple lived on the 8th floor of the condo tower for several years, according to Venezuelan journalist Shirley Varnagy, a close friend of their family.

They were among six Venezuelan natives caught in the building’s collapse. Still missing Monday were Moisés Rodán, 28; Andrés Levine, 27; Luis Sadovnik, 28, and his wife, Nicole Langesfeld, Varnagy said.

Varnagy said the Oliwkowicz’s daughter had been outside the building waiting for some information about their fate. Her husband answered their phone and asked to be left alone.

The couple’s daughter, Mrs. Leah Fouhal, works as a secretary at a Jewish school in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, where the couple donated a Torah in 2019 in a procession that included a vintage fire truck, music and a giant velvet and gold crown, according to COLlive.com, an Orthodox Jewish news outlet that covers Chabad-Lubavitch communities around the world.

Meanwhile, the parents of Rodán, Levine and Sadovnik live in Venezuela and traveled to the U.S. Friday. ‘Some did not have a visa, others had an expired passport, but with diplomatic collaboration they were able to arrive,’ Varnagy said.  

MARCOS JOSEPH GUARA & MICHAEL DAVID ALTMAN

The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday

The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday

Michael David Altman, 50,

Michael David Altman, 50,

The body of 52-year-old Marcus Joseph Guara was recovered on Saturday

Hilda Noriega  

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy

Hilda Noriega (pictured) was named by her family Wednesday as the 12th confirmed victim of the tragedy 

Hilda Noriega, who lived in Apt. 602 in the 12-story tower, was the mother of North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega. 

She had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday. 

Her body was discovered among the remains of the condo tower Tuesday.

Her family paid tribute to the ‘matriarch of the family’ in a statement Wednesday.  

Noriega’s son had traveled to the collapse site Thursday to look for his mother, who had only recently celebrated her 92nd birthday.

Among the rubble, the police chief found a birthday card a relative had given to Noriega at a brunch, reported Local10.    

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