Italy was in shock on Sunday after a cable car crashed to the ground in a northern Italian beauty spot, killing 14 people including a nine-year-old child.
The cable car is believed to have been carrying 15 people on the 20-minute ride between the resort town of Stresa and the Mottarone mountain in the Piedmont region when it plummeted into the woods near Lake Maggiore shortly after midday.
Two children were seriously injured and taken by air ambulance to Regina Margherita children’s hospital in Turin, however a nine-year-old boy died after several attempts to restart his heart failed. “There was nothing more we could do,” said hospital spokesman Pier Paolo Berra. The other child, a five-year-old who arrived at the hospital conscious, remained in a serious condition with brain trauma and broken legs, the Alpine rescue service said on Twitter.
The red and white cable car, which fell about 20 metres and rolled several times before being stopped by tree trunks, was “completely crumpled”, said Walter Milan, a spokesperson for the service.
The cable car service, popular with skiers and hikers, had only reopened on 24 April after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted. Italy also opened its doors to foreign tourists on 16 May.
Six of the dead were Israeli citizens, including a family of four who lived in Italy, the Israeli foreign ministry said. It was reported that other victims were Italian and an Iranian-born man.
“This is a terrible human tragedy, and a tragedy for the territory,” Marcella Severino, the mayor of Stresa, told Rai news. The bodies were taken from the site on Sunday evening, she added. “Tomorrow morning we will hold a meeting with the various institutions … but right now, we are crying for the victims.”
The accident is believed to have been caused by a cable breaking shortly before the cabin arrived at the summit of Mottarone, located about 1,500 metres above sea level.
Severino said that hikers on the mountain reported hearing a loud hiss just before the crash and that some of the victims were found trapped inside the cabin while others were found in the woods.
“It’s a terrible tragedy,” Alberto Cirio, the president of the Piedmont region, told Rai news. “And it happened on the first weekend of opening up, with people able to move around. We need to understand what happened, but security must never be neglected.”
Sergio Mattarella, the Italian president, called for “rigorous compliance with all safety regulations” concerning transportation.
“The tragic accident arouses a deep pain for the victims and great apprehension for those who are fighting for their lives,” he said. “On behalf of all of Italy, I express condolences to the affected families and communities in mourning.”
The Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, said: “I express condolences on behalf of the whole government to the families of the victims, with a special thought for the seriously injured children and their families.”
The infrastructure minister, Enrico Giovannini, and Fabrizio Curcio, the chief of the Italian civil defence department, will travel to Stresa on Monday.
In 2001, 40 tourists had to be rescued from the Stresa-Mottarone cable car system after a cabin became stuck shortly after leaving Stresa.
The system, which opened in 1970, was closed in 2014 for major renovation works before reopening in 2016.
Cabins can ordinarily hold up to 40 people but passenger capacity was reduced due to coronavirus.
Prosecutors in Verbania have ordered the confiscation of the crushed cable car for their investigations.
“There is a severed cable, the others are intact, but the technical questions are the competence of others,” Giorgio Santacroce, chief of Verbania’s police unit, told Rai. “At the moment, there are no maintenance problems, but we will carry out all the possible investigations.”
The last cable car tragedy in Italy was in February 1998, when 20 people were killed after a US marine corps aircraft that was flying too low sliced a cable supporting the cabin they were travelling in before it crashed near the Dolomites ski resort of Cavalese. In 1976, 41 people died in an accident affecting the same cable car system.