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Heater caused ski train disaster

Investigators said the heater should never have been installed on the train  

SALZBURG, Austria -- The fire that killed 155 people on a ski train at an Austrian resort last year was caused by a faulty electric heater, according to a report.

Salzburg district court president Walter Grafinger said the heater's ventilator in the driver's cab at the back of the train had either become stuck or was blocked.

"Hydraulic oil leaked out of a cable and flooded down ... into the heater and the surrounding area, where it then ignited," Grafinger told reporters.

The fire fanned out across the two carriages and brought the funicular train to a halt inside the steep tunnel within the 12,000-foot Alpine mountain.

Grafinger stressed that the aim of the 10-month-long investigation by five experts was to find the cause of the country's worst peacetime disaster and not to apportion blame.

Austrian train disaster Austrian train disaster
  •  Graphic: How it happened
  •  Survivor's tale
  •  Ski champion dead
  •  Video: Disaster
  •  Video: Recovery
  •  Press review
  •  Search for clues
  •  Accidents in Europe

But he said that according to the train's operating instructions, such a heater should not have been installed.

The train burst into flames in the tunnel leading up to a glacier on the Kitzsteinhorn mountain on November 11. Kaprun, with its year-round skiing and extensive downhill skiing area, is a popular destination for skiers.

Only 12 people survived the accident. They managed to break open a window in the train and escape from the tunnel. The remaining 155 victims were unable to flee the inferno as the doors would not open, the report found.

Three people suffocated at the top station as the tunnel's open entrance sucked toxic smoke up its shaft like a chimney.

The dead comprised 92 Austrians, 37 Germans, 10 Japanese, eight Americans, four Slovenians, two Dutch citizens, one Czech and one Briton.

U.S. lawyer Ed Fagan -- best known for high-profile cases on behalf of victims of the Nazi Holocaust -- said he planned to bring a total of about 150 lawsuits against firms, and possibly individuals, by the autumn.

Fagan has already brought about 25 lawsuits in the United States against firms that supplied parts to the funicular train.

In July, he began an action against German electronics giant Siemens, claiming the firm supplied faulty equipment that had prevented people trapped in the train from opening doors during the blaze.

Fagan told reporters in Salzburg there were indications that the authorities had not investigated all aspects of the accident.

• Europe's sports region: Kaprun & Zell am See
• Tignes ski resort
• Metro Alpin
• Saas-Fee (Valais Tourism)
• Republic of Austria

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