A child under five is the sole survivor of a horrific cable car tragedy in northern Italy, which left 14 people dead and a country in shock.
President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi both expressed “profound grief” after a Cableway Stresa Mottarone gondola plunged down a steep slope on Sunday afternoon (local time).
National broadcaster RAI reported the young child was taken to hospital in Turin, with two broken legs and severe trauma.
Stresa mayor Marcella Severino said it appeared that a cable broke, sending the car careening until it hit a pylon and then fell to the ground.
“It was a terrible, terrible scene,” she said. “We are devastated, in pain”.
“All of this is hard to believe,” she said, bursting into tears as hearses passed by.
The car, carrying 15 people, overturned “two or three times before hitting some trees”, she said.
Some of those who died were thrown from the cabin.
Investigation under way
The Italian government announced a commission to investigate the disaster, which is likely to renew questions about the quality and safety of Italy’s transport infrastructure.
Local authorities have seized the ruined cable car and other equipment and are investigating laying criminal 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,” prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said.
Images from the site showed the crumpled car in a clearing of a thick forest of pine trees near the summit of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore.
The car is believed to have fallen about 15 metres, according to Italian media.
The plunge on the the Stresa-Mottarone line happened about 100 metres before the final pylon, said Walter Milan, spokesman for Italy’s Alpine rescue service.
By Sunday night, the death toll had risen to 14 after one of two children taken to a Turin hospital died. The dead child was aged about nine.
The other child, aged about five, remains in a critical condition. Both children are from the same family.
Mr Milan noted that the cable line had been renovated in 2016 and had recently reopened after coronavirus lockdowns in Italy curtailed travel and forced the suspension of many leisure activities.
The line is popular with tourists and locals alike to scale Mottarone, which reaches a height of 1490 metres and overlooks picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region.
The mountain hosts a small amusement park, Alpyland, that has a rollercoaster, and the area also has mountain bike paths and hiking trails.
Italy launches investigation into tragedy
Premier Mario Draghi offered his condolences to the families of the victims “with a particular thought about the seriously injured children and their families.”
Sunday’s tragedy appeared to be Italy’s worst cable car disaster since 1998 when a low-flying US military jet cut through the cable of a ski lift in Cavalese, in the Dolomites, killing 20 people.
Italy’s transport minister, Enrico Giovannini, announced a commission to look into the tragedy and said he had already requested data on the maintenance work and inspections done on the line in the past. He planned to visit the site on Monday local time.
While the cause hasn’t been determined, the disaster was likely to raise questions about Italy’s transport infrastructure. In 2018, the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed after years of neglect, killing 43 people.
In 2009, a freight train carrying gas derailed at the Viareggio station, near Lucca, and exploded, killing 32 people. Poorly maintained axles of the train were blamed.
President Sergio Mattarella, in offering his condolences, called for the “rigorous respect of all security norms” in transportation.