Italy is in shock after a cable car carrying locals and foreign tourists plunged about 20 metres and rolled on the ground before crashing into trees.
The horrific accident in Mottarone Stresa in northern Italy has left at least 14 people dead including a nine-year-old who, according to medical officials, died in hospital after suffering two cardiac arrests.
Stresa mayor Marcella Severino told Italy’s national broadcaster RAI: “We are devastated, in pain”.
“All of this is hard to believe,” she said, bursting into tears as hearses passed by.
Another child, believed to be aged five, remains in a paediatric hospital in the nearby city of Turin.
The gondola usually takes about 20 minutes to transport passengers in the town of Stresa, up almost 1400 metres above sea level to the top of the Mottarone mountain in the north-western region of Piedmont.
But, on Sunday night (Australian time), nearby hikers heard a “hissing” sound and later 15 passengers were found trapped inside a “crumpled” cable car.
The noise immediately before the crash has led to speculation a cable snapped.
Ms Severino said some of the victims had been found trapped inside the car, with others thrown out into bushland.
Ms Severino said coroners had begun identifying the victims, who included foreign nationals, without giving further details.
The Stresa-Mottarone lift had only recently re-opened following the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
“It’s a terrible moment for me and for our community and I think also for the whole of Italy. Especially now that we were just beginning to restart [after the pandemic],” Ms Severino said.
The Mottarone peak is popular with tourists because of its panoramic views on Lake Maggiore and its picturesque islands as well as the vista of the surrounding Alps.
The cable car service opened in August 1970 after almost three years of works to replace a cog railway, its website said.
The dual cable system is split into two sections, just over two kilometres between Stresa and Alpino and another three kilometres between Alpino and Mottarone. It consist of two cars – in alternate directions – with each one carrying up to 40 passengers.
Ms Severino said that important maintenance work, including changing the cables, had been carried out in recent years.
Hauling rope ‘torn’
Ms Severino said two two hikers heard a “whistle” sound and “saw the cabin that was coming to the top go back quickly, then took a pylon and jumped, made two leaps on the steep ground and stopped against some fir trees”.
“Tomorrow there will be city mourning and a 14-minute lockout of activities”, she said.
RAI reported local prosecutor Olimpia Bossi ordered the seizure of the plant and is now investigating whether the operator will face multiple manslaughter charges.
“For now we are proceeding for multiple manslaughter and negligent injuries, we must also verify the crime of an attack on transport safety, also based on the public nature or otherwise of the plant,” Mr Bossi explained.
RAI said the plant was reportedly owned by the Municipality of Stresa.
Ms Severino said the cable car had been maintained and regularly checked.
All the victims have now been identified.