An Italian mayor has described the cable car tragedy that killed 14 people on Sunday as her town’s own 9/11.
‘This is September 11 for Stresa,’ Mayor Marcella Severino said last night as a message from the Pope was relayed by the local priest during a service for the victims and the sole survivor, five-year-old Eitan Biran from Israel.
‘The Holy Father thinks with emotion of so many lives tragically broken … and sends his prayers to the victims and for little Eitan,’ Father Gianluca Villa told the congregation which included firefighters, nurses and carabinieri who rushed to the Mottarone mountain in the Alps after the cable car fell.
The mayor visited Eitan in hospital on Wednesday where his aunt, who works as a doctor in Italy, is preparing to tell him that his parents, great-grandparents and two-year-old sibling were all killed in the crash.
Eitan reopened his eyes for the first time on Wednesday, doctors said, but his condition remains ‘delicate’ after he suffered injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen as well as various leg fractures.
The bodies of his mother, Tal, father, Amit, younger brother Tom and his great-grandparents were lined up at the Milan Malpensa airport yesterday evening ahead of their repatriation to Israel.
Italian police have arrested three managers from the operator of the cable car who are accused of deliberately deactivating the brake that could have stopped the car flying backwards when the cable snapped, to avoid delays following a malfunction.
‘It was a conscious choice, absolutely conscious. That’s it,’ prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told reporters.
‘It was not an occasional omission or forgetfulness. It was a conscious decision to disarm… to deactivate this emergency system in order to remedy what we have been told were problems, technical problems that were occurring on the line,’ she added.
Italian news agencies named the three suspects as Luigi Nerini – the head of Ferrovie del Mottarone, the firm which manages the cable car – and two other managers, Gabriele Tadini and Enrico Perocchio.
Although a maintenance team reportedly came to fix those problems on May 3, they remained unresolved, local Carabinieri police official Alberto Cicognani told Radiotre radio.
‘The Holy Father thinks with emotion of so many lives tragically broken … and sends his prayers to the victims and for little Eitan,’ Father Gianluca Villa told the congregation which included firefighters, nurses and carabinieri who rushed to the Mottarone mountain in the Alps when the cable snapped
The sole survivor of the Italian cable car crash which killed 14 people including five members of his family was pictured moments before the tragedy staring out of the window with his great-grandfather
Carabinieri and Soccorso Alpino forces inspect the crash site on Wednesday after the cable snapped on Sunday, killing 14 people and leaving Israeli boy Eitan orphaned as the sole survivor
Father Gianluca Villa, parish priest of Stresa, holds a service for the dead and for Eitan on Wednesday. ‘The Holy Father thinks with emotion of so many lives tragically broken … and sends his prayers to the victims and for little Eitan,’ the priest told the congregation which included firefighters, nurses and carabinieri who attended the crash site on Sunday
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 in hospital as his aunt prepares to break the tragic news to him
Firefighters gather as Father Gianluca Villa, parish priest of Stresa, hold an act of remembrance to the dead of the Mottarone cable car
Nurses and paramedics gather for the memorial service in Stresa on Wednesday evening
Police and paramedics hold banners as they attend the memorial service in Stresa on Wednesday evening
The Santi Ambrogio e Theodolo church was packed with locals and emergency workers to remember the dead and pray for little Eitan
In a harrowing scene, the coffins of the five Israeli family members killed in the Italian cable car crash this week are lined up ahead of their repatriation to Israel. Pictured: A grieving family member was seen with his head down as he placed a hand on the white coffin of Tom Biran, two
The Mayor of Stresa Marcella Severino at the crash site on the weekend. Last night she said the crash was Stresa’s 9/11
Placed at the centre of the row is the white coffin of two-year-old Tom Biran, the youngest victim of the crash which killed 14 people. Alongside him are his parents Amit and Tal and his great-grandparents
Italian police yesterday arrested three managers from the operator of the cable car who are accused of deliberately deactivating the brake that could have stopped the car flying backwards when the cable snapped, to avoid delays following a malfunction. Italian news agencies named the three suspects as Luigi Nerini (left) – the head of Ferrovie del Mottarone, the firm which manages the cable car – and two other managers, Gabriele Tadini and Enrico Perocchio (right).
A woman cries over a white coffin during a ceremony for the members of the Biran family on Wednesday before they were returned home
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
Picture reveals the red ‘fork’ that allegedly prevented the brakes from working on the cabin’s wreckage covered with a tarpaulin
The clamp that was supposedly placed on the second emergency brake was eventually found as the search for evidence continues
‘To avoid further interruptions in the service, they chose to leave in ‘the fork’, which prevents the emergency brake from working,’ said Cicognani.
He claimed all three men admitted what had happened.
The apparatus known as the fork had been inserted ‘several times’, said Bossi, suggesting the cable car had been unsafe for some time.
‘Certainly Sunday was not the first day and this has been admitted,’ Bossi told journalists.
It comes after a final heartbreaking photo emerged of Eitan and his great-grandfather Yitzhak looking out over the stunning views from the cable car, seconds before the crash.
The picture was taken by Eitan’s parents and sent to family members just before the cable snapped, sending them hurtling to the ground.
General director of the City of Health of Turin, Giovanni La Valle, said on Wednesday: ‘Eitan opened his eyes and found his aunt’s familiar face. They are close to each other at the moment.’
He added that the five-year-old briefly regained consciousness but is still sedated and went back to sleep.
Psychologist Marina Bertolotti said, according to Bild: ‘We have to see how he reacts and find the right answers to his questions.’
It comes as it was revealed engineers ‘tampered with’ the braking system on the cable car as part of a botched fix in order to avoid delays before Sunday’s crash.
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.
Graphic shows the cable car’s route after the cable snapped as the car neared the station at the top of the mountain
Rabbis in Milan carry the coffin of one of the Israeli victims of the Mottarone cable car tragedy during a prayer service on Wednesday
Family members of the five Israeli victims embrace each other in front of their coffins on Wednesday at Milan Malpensa airport
Relatives of the Israeli family who were killed in the crash embrace each other as they look at the coffins of their loved ones
Alessandro Merlo and Silvia Malnati, 29 and 27, also died in the tragedy. Friends said the couple had been engaged for 10 years but were planning to marry – prompted by Silvia’s recent graduation from university
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 (pictured on Wednesday) was installed on the brakes as a temporary fix
Investigators are still probing the cause of the crash but have arrested three people who worked at the cable car company in Piedmont
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.
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.
‘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.
Since the cable car reopened on April 26 after lockdown, technicians on the Ferrovie del Mottarone had noticed faults on the braking system (circled)
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
Silvia (left) had recently graduated from an economics course and got a job at a perfumery in Milan. Alessandro (right) worked as a designer at a company in Switzerland
Angelo Vito Gasparro, 45, wife Roberta Pistolato (together left and right), died when the cable car plunged 65ft during a trip to the mountains to celebrate Roberta’s 40th birthday
Vittorio Zorloni and Elisabetta Persanini (together left, and Vittorio pictured right) were also killed in the accident, along with their five-year-old son Mattia. The couple were engaged and due to be married next month, Italian media reported
‘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.
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
A prayer ceremony for the Jewish victims took place in Verbania Wednesday morning, before the bodies of the dead were released to return to their homes for funerals and burials
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.
Since it has seen many people go to enjoy scenic walks, including the Mottarone Alpino Stressa route, a four hour walk from the top of Mottarone which is reached by cable car.
Among the dead were Eitan’s family, including great-grandparents Itshak and Barbara Cohen, 82 and 70; Alessandro Merlo, 29, his fiance 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 lovers Serena Cosentino, 27, and Mohammadreza Shahaisavandi, 23.
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.
A fundraiser has already reached £60,000 for the sole survivor of the crash who lost five members of his family.
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.
Parents Amit, 30, and Tal, 26, 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.
Alongside the young family were Alessandro and Silvia, who had been engaged for 10 years but were planning to marry soon, a friend told told Corriere, prompted by the fact that she had graduated from an economics degree in March and got a job at a perfumery in Milan.
Also killed in the tragedy were husband and wife Angelo Vito Gasparro, 45, and Roberta Pistolato, who were celebrating her 40th birthday on the day of the accident.
Roberta, who had also recently finished studying in medicine and worked in the city of Piacenza, had sent a text to her sister moments before she died that read: ‘We are going up to the cable car.’
Also among the dead were 54-year-old Vittorio Zorloni, his fiancee Elisabetta Persanini, 38, and the couple’s five-year-old son Mattia. They were due to be married next month, Italian media reported.
Serena, 27, was described by friends as a talented student who had recently moved to Verbania on a research grant, and her Iranian boyfriend Mohammadreza, 23, also a student.
The pair were reportedly on a romantic weekend together after Ms Cosentino’s move, which had taken her away from Mr Shahaisavandi who still lives in Rome.
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.
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.
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’.
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.