Italy probes cable car crash as lone child survivor recovers

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, Sunday, May 23, 2021. Italy’s transport minister was heading Monday, May 24, 2021 to the scene of a cable car disaster that killed 14 people when the lead cable apparently snapped and the cabin careened back down the mountain until it pulled off the line and crashed to the ground. (Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

ROME—Italy’s transport minister was heading Monday to the scene of a cable car disaster that killed 14 people when the lead cable apparently snapped and the cabin careened back down the mountain until it pulled off the line and crashed to the ground.

The lone survivor of Sunday’s horrific incident, a five-year-old Israeli boy living in Italy, remained hospitalized in Turin Monday with multiple broken bones.

The Israeli foreign ministry identified him as Eitan Biran. His parents, younger brother and two great-grandparents were among the dead, the ministry said, correcting an earlier statement that had included Eitan among the victims.

Italian media identified all the other victims as residents of Italy.

The disaster, in one of the most picturesque spots in northern Italy—the Mottarone mountaintop overlooking Lake Maggiore and other lakes near Switzerland—raised questions anew about the quality and safety of Italy’s transport infrastructure.

Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini announced a commission of inquiry had already been formed to investigate the “technical and organizational causes” of the accident, while prosecutors will focus on any criminal blame. Giovannini was heading to the site Monday along with the civil protection chief to inspect the damage.

The transport ministry said a preliminary check of the cable line’s safety and maintenance record show that the whole lift structure underwent a renovation in August 2016, and that a maintenance check was performed in 2017.

Late last year, inspections were performed on the cables themselves, including magnetic inspections on the primary cables of the lift: the cable that pulls the cabin up the mountain, the support cable that holds the car and the rescue cables. In December another visual check was performed, the ministry said.

The mayor of Stresa, Marcella Severino, quoted witnesses as saying they heard a “loud hiss,” apparently when the lead cable snapped. She said the cabin reeled back down the line until it apparently hit a pylon and then plummeted to the ground. It rolled over two or three times before crashing into trees, she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why a brake had not engaged.

Some of the bodies were thrown from the car and were found amid the trees, she said.

The funicular line is popular with tourists and locals alike to scale Mottarone, which reaches a height of 1,491 meters (4,900 feet) and overlooks several picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region.

The mountain hosts a small amusement park, Alpyland, that has a children’s rollercoaster, and the area also has mountain bike paths and hiking trails.

It only reopened a few weeks ago after Italy’s wintertime coronavirus lockdowns lifted, and officials hypothesized that families were taking advantage of a sunny Sunday to visit the peak and take in the view.

The Israeli foreign ministry identified the five Israelis killed as Eitan’s parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg-Biran, an Israeli-born couple studying and working in Pavia. Biran’s Facebook page identifies him as a medical student at the University of Pavia.

Their 2-year-old son, Tom Biran, was killed at the scene, as were Peleg-Biran’s grandparents, Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen. The ministry said they had arrived in Italy on May 19 to visit their granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

Amit Biran’s sister, Aya, was not involved in the crash and was at the bedside of Eitan at Turin’s Regina Margherita hospital, the foreign ministry said, adding that other family members were flying to Italy from Israel to join her.

The Israeli embassy was working to help repatriate the bodies to Israel, it said.

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