Italian investigators have launched a multiple manslaughter investigation after 14 people were killed in a cable car accident in northern Italy, prosecutors said Monday.
A group was riding in a Stresa-Mottarone cable car from the Lido di Stresa piazza on Lake Maggiore to the nearby Mottarone mountain in the Piedmont region when a cable snapped, a spokesperson for the National Alpine Speleological Rescue Corps initially said Sunday.
The car was completing its 20-minute voyage, some 1,491 meters (4,891 feet) above sea level at the top of the mountain, when the cable broke 300 meters (984 feet) from the top of the mountain, according to Italian news agency ANSA. The car then crashed into a wooded area with no direct road access.
Authorities believe 15 passengers were riding in the cable car at the time of the incident, including two children. The children were airlifted to a Turin hospital where one later died, the National Alpine Speleological Rescue Corps said in a Twitter post on Sunday evening.
The cable car system had been running without incident since April 26, when Italy came out of the latest coronavirus-related lockdown, and had done several runs earlier in the morning before the accident.
Olimpia Bossi, the Verbania municipality prosecutor who has taken the lead on investigation, told CNN it was too early to explain the cause of the accident. “What we know is that the towing cable broke and that emergency system failed. We don’t know why this happened and it is what we need to ascertain with the proper investigation,” Bossi said, before adding the cable car “should have stopped and not have slid back” like it did.
Bossi said the full investigation would take some time and that she would nominate a team of technical experts to help. The debris will eventually be moved from the crash site and properly examined.
“We want to give an answer as soon as possible, but it cannot be done in a very short time,” she said. At this stage, there was no reason to suspect sabotage in the accident, the prosecutor added.
On Sunday, Simone Bobbio, spokesperson for the alpine rescuers, told CNN that there may more “more than one reason” for the disaster. He suggested mechanical or human error could have played a role.
Five families were involved in the accident, from the regions of Lombardy, Romagna and Calabria, according to Italian state media. Five Israeli nationals were among the dead, according to Israel’s foreign ministry, which said Monday that the child who survived is also Israeli.
The Israeli victims, according to the ministry, were Amit Biran and Tal Peleg-Biran, who were studying and working in Italy, their son Tom Biran, 2, and Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen, Tal’s grandparents, who arrived in Milan on May 19 to visit their granddaughter and great-grandchildren.
The survivor was named as Eitan Biran, 5, the statement said. His aunt Aya, Amit’s sister, is at the hospital with him, according to the ministry.
The Birans were living in Pavia in northern Italy, the statement said. Amit Biran’s brother and Tal’s brother and father will fly to Italy Monday night, and the Israeli embassy in Rome is assisting in the transfer of the bodies to Israel, according to the ministry.
Lieutenant Colonel Giorgio Santacroce, head of the Verbania municipality Carabinieri Operative Unit – the national gendarmerie in Italy – told CNN the bodies were recovered from the scene Sunday and were undergoing medical examinations to confirm cause of death.
The condition of the surviving child remains “stable but serious,” according to a spokesman of the Regina Margherita children’s hospital in Turin, where the child is being treated.
The hospital spokesman told CNN the child underwent “surgery yesterday evening mostly on his multiple fractures in his legs and arms. He also has a head trauma but he did not undergo surgery there. He is being closely monitored and next hours and days are critical.”
The company responsible for the maintenance of the Stresa-Mottarone cable car, Leitner, conveyed its “deep sorrow” in a statement obtained by CNN.
The company said “the last magnetoscopic inspection of the rope was carried out in November 2020 and the results of the same did not reveal any critical issues.”
“The deepest and most profound thoughts of our company, which remains at your complete disposal together with its technicians to try to identify the causes of the terrible tragedy as soon as possible, goes to the victims, the injured and their families and to all the communities involved” said Anton Seeber, President of HTI, of which Leitner is a subsidiary.
Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella expressed his condolences on Sunday, calling for strict compliance of facilities maintenance.
“The tragic accident at the Stresa-Mottarone cable car arouses deep pain for the victims and great apprehension for those who are fighting for their lives in these hours. I express to the affected families and communities in mourning the participation of the whole of Italy. These sentiments are accompanied by the call for strict compliance with all safety regulations for all conditions concerning the transport of people,” he said.
Nicola Ruotolo and Barbie Latza Nadeau reported and Hada Messia contributed from Rome, Antonia Mortensen contributed from Milan, and Amir Tal and Richard Greene reported from Jerusalem.