Italy cable car fall: Three arrested over fatal accident

  • Published
Media caption,

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

Three people have been arrested in Italy over Sunday's cable car accident that left 14 dead.

Investigators say the emergency brakes had been disabled and the three members of the operating company were aware.

According to a local transport official, the brake failure meant the car was travelling at over 100km/h (62 mph) when the cable broke.

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

Prosecutors are carrying out an investigation into suspected involuntary homicide and negligence.

Was the brake tampered with?

The three suspects have been identified as the owner, director and chief of operations of the company that managed the cable car.

AFP reports that local prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told a press conference that the brake had been tampered with in a "conscious act" and suggested the car was unsafe before Sunday's accident.

The prosecutor alleged a fork-like clamp had been placed over the emergency brake, which had been malfunctioning, after repair work on the car was unsuccessful, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

"It had been applied to avoid continuous disruptions and blockages of the cable car," she said, adding that the suspects had believed that the cable would never break.

According to the newspaper, investigators had initially believed the clamp had been left in place by mistake.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
A handout appears to show the clamp used to stop the emergency brake

What happened to the survivor?

Five families were on board the cable car when it crashed, including two children who were among the dead.

The sole survivor of the accident has been named as Eitan Biran, a five-year old Israeli boy whose parents, great-grandparents and younger brother were all killed.

According to reports, he was protected from the impact of the crash by his father, who shielded him with his body.

Eitan was placed in a medically induced coma after an operation on Sunday but briefly opened his eyes on Wednesday, a medical official said. His aunt is with him in the hospital and he is expected to fully regain consciousness in the coming hours.

"This is the most delicate moment," Turin's health chief was quoted as saying by Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

Since the cable car reopened after lockdown a month ago, it had been operating with the tampered break system. For those who took the journey in that period, it's been described as Russian roulette.

The investigators' findings are chilling. The first assumption was that the clamp had been inserted and left inside by mistake. But it appears to have been a conscious decision by the maintenance workers.

Almost three years since a bridge in Genoa collapsed killing 43 people - a result of years of failed maintenance and conflict of interest - Italy is now facing another scandal over neglect of transport infrastructure with deadly consequences.

And a shaken country is asking how many more such disasters will follow.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The cable car fell down a steep slope, and was stopped by trees

What happened on Sunday?

Matteo Gasparini, provincial head of Italy's Alpine rescue service, said earlier this week that the emergency brake had failed to work after a cable snapped.

The cable car then 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 cable car service originally opened in 1970 and was closed for maintenance between 2014 and 2016, according to local media reports. It recently reopened following the lifting of coronavirus measures. Numbers inside the gondolas were restricted.

Related Topics