Fourteen people were killed and a child left seriously injured after a cable car in northern Italy plunged to the ground in the country’s latest transport disaster.
Early reports suggested that a cable may have snapped, sending the cable car and the 15 people inside it hurtling 20 metres (65ft) to the ground. It rolled over several times before smashing into trees and coming to a halt.
The force of the impact was so great that several bodies were flung into the surrounding forest, while others remained trapped inside.
The tragedy happened on a cable car route that links the town of Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore with a mountain recreation area called Mottarone, which lies 4,900ft above sea level.
It offers hiking and biking paths as well as magnificent views of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding Alps.
Two children injured in the accident were taken by helicopter to a hospital in Turin.
Both suffered severe injuries and one was subjected to a six-minute cardiac massage as doctors at the Regina Margherita hospital in Turin frantically tried to save the child’s life.
One of the children sadly died on Sunday night, several hours after the accident.
“One of the children didn’t make it,” the national alpine rescue service announced. “So the death toll sadly rises to 14.”
There were also reports that a Briton could be among the victims. Colonel Giorgio Santacroce, a senior Carabinieri officer, confirmed that some of the dead were foreigners but said that “efforts to identify them are still ongoing.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London said they were "monitoring developments" following the accident, but were not aware of any British nationals being involved.
A list of 11 of the victims was obtained by the Italian media on Sunday night and included Israelis and an Iranian.
Six of the dead were Israeli citizens, including a family of four who lived in Italy, the Israeli foreign ministry said. It wasn't clear if the other couple was related.
The cable car was just a few hundred yards from its destination on top of the mountain when the accident happened.
The mayor of the town of Stresa said it appeared a cable had snapped.
“It seems that the cause was the breaking of a cable. Hikers who were in that area heard a loud whooshing sound. They saw the cable car, which was arriving at the top, quickly go backwards and when it hit a pylon it plummeted down,” Marcella Severino told TG24, an Italian TV channel. “It rolled two or three times and then came to rest against some pine trees.”
She said initial reports indicated that there were “some foreigners” among the victims – possibly two Germans.
“It’s a really serious accident,” said Walter Milan, a spokesman for the alpine rescue service.
“The cable car fell from a pretty high point and crashed to the ground on the edge of the forest. It is largely destroyed, in fact it is completely crumpled, so the height of the fall was clearly significant.”
The weather was sunny and clear, with families across the country flocking to mountains and beaches to take advantage of a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions after a long winter of lockdowns.
The cable line was renovated between 2014 and 2016 at a cost of €4 million.
It had only recently reopened after the pandemic forced the closure of ski lifts and mountain resorts across Italy.
“I heard with profound sadness the news of the tragic accident,” said Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister.
“I express the condolences of the whole government to the families of the victims, with particular thought for the children who were seriously injured.”
It was Italy's worst cable car disaster since 1998 when a low-flying US Marine Corps aircraft, swooping low along a valley in the Dolomites, sliced through the wires of a cable car near the town of Cavalese. The ski lift plunged to the ground, killing all 20 passengers.
Italy has a reputation for poor maintenance of its transport infrastructure. Three years ago, a huge motorway bridge in Genoa collapsed, sending vehicles hurtling hundreds of feet to the ground and killing 43 people.