A cable car taking visitors to a mountaintop view of some of northern Italy’s most picturesque lakes plummeted to the ground Sunday and then tumbled down the slope, killing 14 people, including five Israelis.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry, citing Italian authorities, said the victims appeared to include an Israeli couple living in Italy and their son. Another elderly couple, likely visiting from Israel, was also killed, the ministry said, adding that the information was still being verified.
The Foreign Ministry said it was not releasing the victims’ names until it could confirm that their families had been notified. But Israel’s ambassador in Rome, Dror Eydar, confirmed all five were members of one family.
“We’re talking about a single family — two parents, their child, and grandpa and grandma,” he said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio.
The Foreign Ministry said another Israeli child was in critical condition.
A local hospital spokesman initially said two children aged 9 and 5 had been seriously injured and taken by helicopter to a pediatric hospital in Turin. One of the children later died after several attempts to restart his heart failed and “there was nothing more we could do,” said hospital spokesman Pier Paolo Berra. The other young child, who arrived at the hospital conscious, remained in serious condition, authorities said.
“The cable tore,” said Eydar. “We don’t know why yet. This is under investigation. We won’t rest until we know exactly what happened there.”
The toll could rise further from the accident in Stresa, a resort town on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy’s Piedmont region, the Alpine rescue service said on Twitter. The car was believed to have fallen around 15 meters (50 feet), according to Italian media.
“It was a terrible, terrible scene,” Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor, told Italy’s SkyTG24.
President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed their “profound grief,” offering condolences to the victims’ families, as regional as well as EU leaders expressed their sorrow and shock.
The 20-minute cable car ride, popular with tourists, links Stresa with the 1,500-meter (4,900-foot) summit of the Mottarone mountain and offers spectacular views of the Alps.
— Gianluca Avagnina (@GianlucAvagnina) May 23, 2021
The ministry of infrastructure said in a statement that the accident occurred around 12:30 p.m. as the cabin, with 15 people aboard and a maximum capacity of 35, was about 100 meters from the summit.
The ministry said the accident appeared to have been caused by a ruptured cable near the top of the route.
Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini announced an inquiry into what he called “a dramatic occurrence that we are following most attentively.”
Down in the village, people were stunned by the news of the accident.
“I came to Stresa with a group of friends. Our plan was to go up Mount Mottarone because the view is beautiful from there,” said Luisa Tesserin, a 27-year-old student from Genoa.
“We got on the cable car an hour before the tragedy. When we got on, the cable car didn’t give any strange signals, everything was fine. When they told us the news, we were shocked,” Tesserin told AFPTV.
“All the maintenance has been done. They’ve spent a lot of money, they’ve done a lot of work,” Angelo Garavaglia, the 59-year-old owner of the Idrovolante restaurant at the foot of the cable car, told AFP.
“I think it was an accident because the system is in good order, the maintenance companies are leaders in Italy. It was an accident: it’s up to the technicians to explain what happened,” he added.
Regional president Alberto Cirio said he was “devastated” at what he termed “an enormous tragedy that takes our breath away.”
Giovanni Toti, president of the neighboring region of Liguria, noted that the accident occurred just as Italy was emerging from months of COVID-related restrictions.
Sunday, he said, was supposed to have been “a day of reopening rich in hope.”
European Council President Charles Michel sent out a tweet in Italian expressing his “most sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost a loved one in this tragic accident.”
Fire service images showed debris from the white and red cabin in a steep wooded area where access appeared difficult.
The cable car was closed between 2014 and 2016 for maintenance work.
Europe has seen a number of similar cable car accidents over the past 50 years.
Nine German skiers were killed on September 5, 2005, when an 800 kilo (1,760 pound) concrete block fell from a helicopter transporting it near the popular Austrian Tyrol resort of Soelden onto a cable carrying their cabin.
In February 1998, a low-flying US military jet severed a cable at Cavalese, a ski resort in Italy’s Dolomites, killing 20 people.
Cavalese was also the scene of a 1976 disaster when a steel supporting cable broke, killing 42 people.