STRESA, ITALY (AFP) – Investigators probed the causes of Sunday’s (May 23) terrifying cable car crash in the Italian mountains that left 14 people dead, including five Israelis, and a young child fighting for his life.
The five-year-old boy remained in hospital, the only survivor of the accident on the summit of Mottarone mountain in the northwest Piedmont region, with a hospital official saying the next two days were critical.
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.
The accident came at the start of Italy’s much-anticipated reopening to tourists after coronavirus closures, and elicited condolences from around the world.
But it also drew condemnation from some commentators over weak security controls in the country’s transportation sector, even though the investigations are still at an early stage.
Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini arrived in the town of Stresa, from where the cable car started, to meet local and regional authorities.
Prosecutors opened an investigation on Sunday into potential charges of involuntary manslaughter, while a government-commissioned inquiry by technical experts is also underway.
The accident was the first 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.
“There are various aspects of this affair that will certainly be clarified,” Giovannini said in a short press conference, without taking questions.
The fatal accident near the end of the 20-minute ride up the scenic mountain 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 cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres, 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 and two-year-old sibling were killed, was transported to a Turin hospital on Sunday, where he was being treated for injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen and various leg fractures.
A spokesman at the Citta della Salute hospital told Agence France-Presse 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.”
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.