The owner, manager and service director of a northern Italian cable company are facing manslaughter charges after allegedly admitting that they deactivated the emergency brake system on a cable car that plummeted to the ground Sunday morning.
Thirteen people, including a 2-year-old, died on impact when the towing cable broke and nothing stopped the car from plummeting into a forest area below. A 9-year-old died later in hospital and a 5-year-old remains in serious but stable condition.
Lead prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told reporters Wednesday that the cable car’s emergency brakes had been tampered with after they were spontaneously activating since the system came back online April 26 after Italy’s latest COVID-19 lockdown. The car that was later involved in the crash had stopped several times, and local media report that on at least one occasion, passengers called the emergency services to report they were trapped in the air.
But rather than removing or repairing the faulty brake system, Bossi said the company chose instead to deactivate it. One of the investigators told local media that all three “admitted” to what happened, calling the decision to take the deadly shortcut “a grave one.”
Investigators, studying surveillance camera footage from the destination station as the car approached noted that when the cable broke, the brake system clearly did not activate. The car was just five-meters from the platform with more than a dozen passengers ready to get in to take the 20-minute journey down to the lakeside. The operator standing on the platform was ready to open the door to disembark the passengers when he and others say they heard a loud hissing sound. The cable then snapped and the car jolted back down the cable until it hit a pylon and broke loose, plummeting 20 meters into a forest below.
Investigators later examined the wreckage to confirm their findings, that the brake system was intentionally blocked.
Luigi Nerini, the owner of Ferrovie Mattrone, the company that runs the service from the base of Lake Maggiore to an observation point nearly a mile above sea level, faces multiple manslaughter charges along with the company’s manager Enrico Perocchio and service director Gabriele Tardini. All three were remanded in custody early Wednesday morning after a lengthy overnight interrogation.
The lone survivor of the tragic accident, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, an Israeli citizen who lived in Italy with his parents, opened his eyes on Wednesday, according to the pediatric hospital where he is in intensive care in Turin. He lost five members of his family, including his parents and grandparents, who were visiting from Israel and had taken the cable car for what they surely thought would be a peaceful Sunday ride.