Police arrest 3 over Italian cable car disaster, say emergency brake deactivated

FILE PHOTO: Police and rescue service members are seen near the crashed cable car after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. ITALIAN POLICE/Handout via REUTERS

(Italian Police handout via Reuters)


1 photo

ROME (Reuters) — Italy's carabinieri police arrested three men on Wednesday over a cable car crash that killed 14 people, saying the emergency brake system had been deactivated to overcome a fault.

On Sunday the gondola on a cableway connecting the northern town of Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, to the nearby Mottarone mountain plunged to the ground, killing all aboard apart from a 5-year-old Israeli boy who remains in the hospital.

The bodies of five other victims from Israel — a young couple, their child and their grandparents — were being sent home on Wednesday.

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected involuntary manslaughter and negligence.

Carabinieri Lt. Col. Alberto Cicognani told broadcaster RAI the suspects, who he did not name, admitted that a fork-shaped clamp had been placed on the safety brake system, preventing it from operating as it should.

The cable car had not been working properly, with the brakes constantly kicking in. The clamp would stop them from activating, allowing the cable car to keep functioning.

"It is certainly very serious and very disturbing," Olimpia Bossi, the chief prosecutor of the city of Verbania, told reporters after the arrests.

"With the conviction that the cable car would never break, (the men) took the risk which determined the deadly outcome," Bossi said.

A Carabinieri official in Verbania told Reuters those arrested were the manager of Ferrovie Mottarone, the company that manages the cableway, its director, and the manager of the cableway.

A lawyer for one of the men was not immediately available and it was not immediately possible to reach representatives for the other two.

A crashed cable car is seen after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. ALPINE RESCUE SERVICE/Handout via REUTERS
A crashed cable car is seen after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. ALPINE RESCUE SERVICE/Handout via REUTERS

The cabin was nearing the end of its journey to the top of the Mottarone mountain when the lead cable snapped. The gondola slipped back very fast until it pulled off the cable and tumbled to earth, where it rolled over before hitting trees.

It was still unclear why the lead cable snapped.

The cable car underwent major maintenance work between 2014 and 2016. Checks were carried out in 2017 and again last year by specialist technicians.

Ferrovie Mottarone was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Giulia Segreti; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Giles Elgood and Philippa Fletcher)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021

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