Italy investigates fatal cable car crash as only survivor fights for life

Italy investigates fatal cable car crash as only survivor fights for life
The starting point of the Stresa cable car by Lake Maggiore, northern Italy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Investigators were on Monday probing the causes of a terrifying cable car crash in the Italian mountains that left 14 people dead and a young child in critical condition.

The five-year-old boy, whose parents, grandparents and two-year-old sibling were killed in Sunday’s accident, remained in hospital. An official there said the next two days were critical.

The boy was the only survivor of the accident on the summit of Mottarone mountain in the north-west region of Piedmont. A nine-year-old boy was also among the victims.

The cable car crashed to the ground after a cable broke, according to first reports, while one member of the emergency services said the security brake failed to function.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into potential charges of involuntary manslaughter, while a government-commissioned inquiry by technical experts is also under way.

“There are various aspects of this affair that will certainly be clarified,” Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini said after visiting Stresa, the town at the base of the cable car.

The fatal accident, which occurred near the end of a 20-minute ride up the mountain, came at the start of the country’s much-anticipated reopening to tourists after coronavirus closures.

It may have had a dual cause, according to the regional head of Italy’s alpine rescue team, Matteo Gasparini.

“They are all suppositions, but I think there has been a double problem, the breakup of the cable and the non-working of the emergency brake,” he told La Stampa daily. “We don’t know why it didn’t activate, while in the downstream car it worked.”

That meant the cable car began quickly falling back and picking up speed before it “ended up catapulted out of the support cables”, Gasparini said.

The arrival building of the Stresa to Mottarone cableway, a day after a cable car accident killed 14 people. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

An expert in technical construction at the Polytechnic University of Milan, Gianpaolo Rosati, told AFP it would take time before laboratory tests on the cable’s mechanisms, including the snapped cable itself, were completed.

He said the cable could have been corroded, or overused, but added: “Usually there is not one sole cause, but a series of causes that unfortunately combine in the worst way and cause a tragedy.”

The cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres (1,640 feet), before coming to a stop, according to news reports.

Rescuers found five bodies still inside the cable car, with the others strewn outside.

The young survivor, whose parents were born in Israel and were residents in Italy,  was transported to a Turin hospital on Sunday. He was being treated for injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen and various leg fractures, media reports said.

A spokesman at the Citta della Salute hospital told AFP the child was in stable condition after being intubated and sedated, but his condition still serious.

The hospital’s director, Giovanni La Valle, told La Repubblica newspaper that the child’s situation was being followed “minute by minute”: “We await the next 48 hours, the situation is critical but there’s still hope.”

In a tweet, Italy’s firefighters named the boy as Eitan and said the whole fire service was behind him.

The head of Italy’s biggest consumer protection group, Codacons, said the accident was “just the latest serious incident” involving the transport sector, in a list that includes the 2018 collapse of a major highway bridge in Genoa that killed 43 people.

“After the massacre of the [Genoa] Morandi Bridge, the derailments of trains, the seizures of bridges and viaducts at risk throughout Italy, the shipwrecks of cruise ships, it is clear that in our country something does not work on the front of controls on transport safety,” wrote Codacons president Carlo Rienzi in a statement.

It was the first fatal incident involving a cable car in Italy since 1998, when a low-flying US military jet severed a cable at a ski resort, killing 20 people.


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