‘Botched fix on Italian cable car’s brakes – which meant operators avoided closing down for full repairs just as Covid restrictions ended’ – is blamed for tragedy that claimed 14 lives
- Engineers noticed brake faults when the service reopened after lockdown
- They decided not to carry out long repairs, causing delays just after reopening
- A temporary fork device was installed in the brakes to keep the service running
- But the device kept apart the emergency brakes, causing them to fail on Sunday
- Three people have been arrested on manslaughter charges overnight
- Survivor Eitan Biran is in a stable condition in intensive care after Sunday’s crash
- The incident killed all other 14 passengers, including several family members
PUBLISHED: 09:18, 26 May 2021 | UPDATED: 09:19, 26 May 2021
Engineers ‘tampered with’ the braking system on the Italian cable car as part of a botched fix in order to avoid delays before the crash which killed 14 people on Sunday, police have said.
Three people have been arrested overnight after investigators revealed the car rolled backwards at 60mph before flying 60 yards through the air before hitting a tree.
Since the cable car reopened on April 26 after lockdown, technicians on the Ferrovie del Mottarone had noticed faults on the braking system.Dailymail.co.uk: News, Sport, Showbiz, Celebrities from Daily MailPauseNext video0:00 / 0:00SettingsFull-screenRead More
Instead of shutting down the whole service as was requested, causing delays just as the summer season was starting and Covid appeared to be in retreat, a device was installed on the brakes as a temporary fix.
But the ‘fork’ kept apart the jaws of the emergency brake clamps and prevented them from activating when the cable snapped, causing the car to fall, prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said.
She said the system was ‘tampered with’ in order to avoid delays, which has now led to the arrest of manager Luigi Nerini, director of the business Enrico Perocchio and the head of service Gabriele Tadini, on charges including manslaughter.+10
Amit Biran, 30 (left), his wife Tal, 26 (right), and their two-year-old son Tom were among those killed in the cable car crash in Italy. Eldest son Eitan (bottom right), five, is now fighting for life in hospital. Tal’s grandparents Itshak and Barbara were also killed+10
Engineers ‘tampered with’ the braking system (circled) on the Italian cable car as part of a botched fix in order to avoid delays, prosecutors said+10
Graphic shows the cable car’s route after the cable snapped as the car neared the station at the top of the mountain
Bossi added: ‘It was a conscious choice made for economic reasons. The system should have been stopped.’
Lieutenant colonel of the Verbania carabinieri, Alberto Cicognani, said, according to Torino Repubblica: ‘Was the brake not activated voluntarily? Yes, they admitted it. There were malfunctions in the cable car.’
It is still not clear why the cable broke, but the mechanism which should have been in place to stop the car from falling was overridden by the fork installed on the brakes.
It comes as medics said the sole survivor of the tragedy, five-year-old Eitan Biran, who lost his parents, brother and great-grandparents, was beginning to wake up despite still being in a critical condition.
Regional transport councillor Marco Gabusi, one of the investigators examining the crash that took place near the summit of the Mottarone mountain, explained the dynamics of the accident in a report.+10
Since the cable car reopened on April 26 after lockdown, technicians on the Ferrovie del Mottarone had noticed faults on the braking system (circled)+10
It is still not clear why the cable broke, but the mechanism which should have been in place to stop the car from falling was overridden+10
Service manager Luigi Nerini (pictured), director of the business Enrico Perocchio and the head of service Gabriele Tadini have been arrested
‘There are two braking systems that must act if unfortunately something of this kind happens. If the braking system does not operate, the cabin goes back, it is estimated that it did so at over one hundred kilometers per hour (60mph).
‘There should have been no impact, but the slope that changes at that speed acted as a springboard and the cabin blew up at 100kilometers per hour (60mph), flying 54 meters (60 yards), and then rolled again for a few tens of meters,’ he said.
‘At this point, I leave you to imagine what happened and what the rescuers found themselves in front of,’ he said before thanking rescuers and emergency response teams for their efforts.
Chief prosecutor of Verbania, Olimpia Bossi spoke on Tuesday after reviewing surveillance footage.
‘The cabin had basically reached the point of disembarkation, you can see that it jumps and goes back,’ she said at a press conference, adding that the footage did not capture the entirety of the car’s route.
Bossi said there are no suspects at the moment and that no hypothesis can be excluded as to what caused the accident.
She added that a witness who reported a breakdown the day before the accident will be interviewed as soon as possible. +10
The cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres (1,600 feet), before coming to a stop, according to news reports
The Mottarone cable car popular with tourists
Lake Maggiore cableway mountain cable car cabin stock
The Mottarone cable car was opened in 1970. It reaches a height of 4,900 feet and takes tourists from the town of Stresa, to the top of the mountain, in 20 minutes.
Mount Mottarone is considered a ‘natural balcony’ and boasts panoramic views across the Po Valley to the Alps.
Seven lakes are visible from the summit, which is a 15 minute walk from the cable car station, they include Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest, Lake Orta and Lake Mergozzo.
The area became popular in the early 1900s when the area opened up for skiing and winter sports.
Five-year-old Eitan Biran is in a stable condition in intensive care, sources at Turin’s Regina Margherita children’s hospital said on Tuesday.
An MRI scan Eitan underwent on Monday revealed no signs of brain damage, sources said, adding that doctors will now start to phase out the medication that is keeping the boy sedated and bring him around.
Doctors said Eitan, who suffered multiple broken bones, was protected by father Amit who ‘wrapped his son in an instinctive embrace’ and shielded him from blows that ultimately killed everyone around him – including mother Tal, brother Tom, and both his great-grandparents.
Giovanni La Valle, general manager of the City of Health of Turin, told La Repubblica: ‘The awakening operations have begun, at this moment the child’s response is positive, with some coughing, some movements and moments of spontaneous breathing, but in precautionary terms we are going with much more calm and attention precisely because the clinical situation of the child remains critical.’
Eitan’s aunt Aya Biran and his grandparents are at his bedside.
Ms Biran told La Stampa that her nephew said ‘I’m scared, don’t touch me’ and ‘where is my mum’ to medics before he was sedated.
The cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres (1,600 feet), before coming to a stop, according to news reports.
‘There are various aspects of this affair that will certainly be clarified,’ Transport Minister Enrico Giovanni said on Monday after visiting Stresa, the town at the base of the cable car.
Prosecutors opened an investigation on Sunday into potential charges of involuntary manslaughter, while a government-commissioned inquiry by technical experts was also under way.Seven dead after cable car falls 100ft down mountain in KashmirLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%1:38PreviousPlaySkipMuteCurrent Time1:38/Duration Time2:31FullscreenNeed TextSHARE THISMORE VIDEOS
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The cable car was carrying 15 people to the top of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region of the western Alps and dropped when it was just 1,000ft from the 4,900ft-high mountain station
Sunday’s crash was the first fatal incident 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.
It came at the start of the country’s much-anticipated reopening to tourists after coronavirus closures.
Rescuers found five bodies still inside the cable car, with the others strewn outside.
Among the dead were Eitan’s family, including great-grandparents Itshak and Barbara Cohen, 82 and 70; Alessandro Merlo, 29, his fiancee Silvia Malnati, 27; husband Angelo Vito Gasparro, 45, and wife Roberta Pistolato; Vittorio Zorloni, his fiancee Elisabetta Persanini, 38, and the couple’s five-year-old son Mattia; and couple Serena Cosentino, 27, and Mohammadreza Shahaisavandi, 23.
The uncle of Mattia blamed Italy’s politicians for the disaster, comparing it to the 2018 collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa that killed 43 people.
‘It should not be possible to die while you are taking your family to a quiet place or because a bridge collapses,’ Corrado Guzzetti told ANSA news agency on Tuesday.
‘The condolences of politicians only make me more angry because they are responsible for these tragedies’. +10
Investigators on Monday were probing the cause of the horrific crash that took place near the summit of the Mottarone mountain, a scenic location overlooking Lake Maggiore in the northwest region of Piedmont. Pictured: People in Stresa stand in front of a newsstand displaying a daily with the headline: ‘Mottarone tragedy with 14 dead’+10
Pictured: A floral tribute outside the front of the Stresa to Mottarone cable car station on Monday
Eitan, the young survivor, whose parents were born in Israel and were residents in Italy, was immediately airlifted to the Turin hospital.
He suffered injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen and various leg fractures, media reports said.
His parents had recently returned from Israel, where they were born, to Pavia where Amit worked in medicine at the university, and were on a family day out to the Alps with Tal’s grandparents when disaster hit.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis offered prayers for ‘little Eitan,’ sending a telegram to the local bishop offering his condolences to the families of the dead who he said were ‘tragically lost while immersed in the marvels of creation.’
An expert in technical construction at the Polytechnic University of Milan, Gianpaolo Rosati, told AFP that it would take time before laboratory tests on the cable’s mechanisms, including the snapped cable itself, were completed.
He said the cable could have been corroded, or overused, but added: ‘Usually there is not one sole cause, but a series of causes that unfortunately combine in the worst way and cause a tragedy.’
The head of Italian consumer protection group, Codacons, said the accident was ‘just the latest serious incident’ involving the transport sector, a list that includes bridge collapse.
‘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 is not working in terms of transport safety controls,’ Codacons President Carlo Rienzi said in a statement.