Mottarone cable car crash: Italy investigates cause of accident

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Media caption,

Pictures from the scene showed the wreckage of the cable car nestled among trees

Italy has launched an investigation into the cause of Sunday's cable car accident that left 14 people dead.

The car plunged 20m (65ft) into the side of the Mottarone mountain near Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.

A rescue official said it appeared that a cable had snapped and an emergency brake failed.

Thirteen people died at the scene, including a two-year-old child. Two other children were taken to hospital where one later died.

Five members of an Israeli family were among the victims and the surviving five-year-old child - who is in a serious condition in hospital - is also Israeli.

On Monday, the crumpled remains of the cable car were sealed off and technicians prepared to examine the wreckage.

Prosecutors in Milan said they had opened an investigation into involuntary homicide and negligence. Investigators said they had also seized the operating company's technical and maintenance documentation.

A lawyer for the company, Ferrovie del Mottarone, said maintenance and checks had been carried out regularly, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

The cables were not due to be replaced until 2029, the newspaper added.

"Everything will be subject to technical checks in the coming days", said local public prosecutor Olimpia Bossi. "We are carrying out investigations and technical checks."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The service carried passengers up the Mottarone mountain from the resort town of Stresa
Image source, EPA
Image caption,
The cable car smashed into trees as it fell down the mountain

Matteo Gasparini, provincial head of Italy's Alpine rescue service, said there appeared to have been two major problems - the breakage of the cable and the failure of the emergency brake.

"We don't know why it didn't activate, while in the downstream car it worked," he said.

The cable car sped backwards and "ended up catapulted out of the support cables", Mr Gasparini added.

It is believed the car struck a pylon and plummeted to the ground, tumbling down the mountain until it crashed into trees.

Initial reports said the towing cable failed at about 12:30 (10:30 GMT) as the gondola neared the end of its 20-minute journey to the top of the mountain from the resort town of Stresa. Nearby hikers heard a loud hiss before it crashed to the ground.

"The others [cables] are intact, but it is too early to say what happened from a technical point of view," local police commander Lt Col Giorgio Santacroce said, according to Ansa news agency.

"It will be necessary to understand why the safety devices have not been triggered, which should keep the cabin anchored," he added.

Marcella Severino, the mayor of Stresa, said the cable car "began to go backwards (and) probably hit a pylon".

What do we know of the victims?

The occupants of the cable car were from five families, Ansa reported. Three lived in Lombardy, one in Emilia-Romagna and one in Calabria.

Israel's foreign ministry said the five Israelis who died were Amit Biran, 30, his wife Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, and their son Tom Biran, aged two, who lived in Pavia, Lombardy, and Ms Peleg-Biran's grandparents Barbara Cohen Konisky, 70, and Yitzhak Cohen, 82, who were from Tel Aviv. The couple's other son, five-year-old Eitan Biran, is in hospital in Turin with serious head and leg injuries.

The Regina Margherita children's hospital said on Monday that Eitan had undergone an operation and was now sedated. The child's aunt - Mr Biran's sister - was at the hospital.

"He spent a quiet night, now all that remains is to hope," said hospital director general Giovanni La Valle.

The cable car service originally opened in 1970 and was closed for maintenance between 2014 and 2016, local media reported. It recently reopened following the lifting of coronavirus measures and numbers inside the gondolas were restricted. Each cable car can usually hold about 35 passengers.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the crash as a "tragic accident" and said he was receiving updates from local and national officials.

"I express the condolences of the whole government to the families of the victims," he said in a statement.

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