Two young children are under 14 who died when a cable car fell 65 feet and rolled down a mountainside before slamming into trees.
Of the four families involved in Sunday’s tragedy in Italy’s western Alps, one was originally from Israel and lost five family members, including a two-year-old boy and an 83-year-old woman.
A nine-year-old child who suffered severe head trauma and broken legs died after being flown to a Turin hospital and suffering two cardiac arrests.
A five-year-old boy – the only survivor – who was flown to the same hospital was in serious condition after an operation.
The lift was carrying 15 people when it fell from the highest point of a line between the town of Stresa on picturesque Lake Maggiore and the summit of 4,900-foot-high Mottarone Mountain.
Stresa Mayor Marcella Severino told local media that a cable broke near the last pylon on the route, causing the car to crash and tip over several times.
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People hiking nearby heard a loud hissing sound just before the crash, she said.
The cable car was just 1,000 feet from a station at the top of the mountain after a 20-minute ride from the lakeside town.
The line was only restarted a month ago after a Covid lockdown.
Ms. Severino said that some of the victims were found trapped in the car, while others were thrown into the forest.
The only survivor, a five-year-old boy, was treated in an intensive care unit for head, chest and leg injuries. He was conscious when he arrived and spoke Italian.
The climb to the wreck of the Stresa-Mottarone cable car was so steep and difficult that a fire engine overturned and tried to get to the scene of the accident.
Pictures from the scene show the red and white cable car, which lies in a destroyed wreck in a wooded area amid broken trees on the steep mountain slope, while rescue workers are urgently working on site.
The Italian government announced that it would set up a commission to investigate the cause of the incident as well as the condition of the cable car and the route before the tragedy.
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Valeria Ghezzi, president of a national association of cable car operators, said the route had been classified as “completely safe” and had undergone regular checks and maintenance. La Stampa reported.
A union representing cable car workers said it raised safety concerns when it called for “doing more to keep traffic safe”.
In a statement, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered condolences to the families of the victims and said his thoughts go with the two survivors of the child.
Alberto Cirio, President of the Piedmont Region, told the local media that he and the community were “shocked” by the tragedy.
Ms. Severino, the mayor of Stresa, told RAI: ”We are devastated and in pain.
“It is a terrible moment for me and our community, and I think for all of Italy too.
“Especially now that we’ve just restarted (after the pandemic).”
She said important maintenance work, including changing cables, has been done in recent years.
“All of this is hard to believe,” she added.
The long cable car line connects Stresa with the mountain and takes tourists and locals to the top in just 20 minutes. A change is required about halfway up.
The elevator, owned by the local community and operated by a private company, did not reopen until April 24, following the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
A woman who took the cable car up and down the mountain shortly before the tragedy shared details of her close call in a post on Instagram.
She shared recordings of the return trip to Stresa and wrote: “This morning at 10 o’clock we drove from Stresa with the cable car to Mount Mottarone.
“The first to go up, the first to go down. Fortunately it was nice, but some time ago there was news of a tragedy.
“Thank God for us. I cry the people who lost their lives shortly after.”
Immediately thereafter, there was confusion about the number of people on board and the death toll.
The cable car reportedly carried 11 people initially when it fell, but the number later rose along with the number of deaths when the victims were removed from the site.
Walter Milan, a spokesman for the national rescue service for the Alps, told the Italian television RaiNews24 that a call for help had been received shortly after noon (10 a.m. GMT).
Rescuers discovered that the cable car had fallen from a very high point and landed “crumpled” in the forest below, he added.
Two injured children were flown by helicopter to a children’s hospital in the nearby city of Turin, he said.
The rescue efforts were hampered by the steep terrain when the cable car fell into a wooded area that was difficult to access, the broadcaster reported.
The Mottarone peak is popular with tourists for its panoramic views of Lake Maggiore and its picturesque islands, as well as the view of the surrounding Alps.
The cable car service was first opened in August 1970 after almost three years of work as a replacement for a rack railway, the website says.
The double cable system is divided into two sections.
One is just over a mile between Stresa and Alpino and the other is just less than two miles between Alpino and Mottarone.
It consists of two cars – in alternating directions – with up to 40 passengers each.
The Stresa-Mottarone cable car was closed for maintenance in 2014 and reopened in 2016, local media reported.