Italy’s carabinieri police arrested three men on Wednesday over a cable car crash that killed 14 people, saying the emergency brake system had been deactivated to overcome a fault.
On Sunday the gondola on a cable way connecting the northern town of Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, to the nearby Mottarone mountain plunged to the ground, killing all aboard apart from a five-year-old Israeli boy who remains in hospital.
The bodies of five other victims from Israel – a young couple, their child and their grandparents – were being sent home on Wednesday. Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected involuntary manslaughter and negligence.
Carabinieri Lieutenant colonel Alberto Cicognani told broadcaster RAI the suspects, who he did not name, admitted that
a fork-shaped clamp had been placed on the safety brake system,
preventing it from operating as it should.
The cable car had not been working properly, with the brakes constantly kicking in. The clamp would stop them from activating, allowing the cable car to keep functioning. “It is certainly very serious and very disturbing,” Olimpia Bossi, the chief prosecutor of the city of Verbania, told reporters after the arrests.
“With the conviction that the cable car would never break, (the men) took the risk which determined the deadly outcome,”
A Carabinieri official in Verbania told Reuters those arrested were the manager of Ferrovie Mottarone, the company that manages the cable way, its director, and the manager of the cable way.
A lawyer for one of the men was not immediately available and it was not immediately possible to reach representatives for the other two. The cabin was nearing the end of its journey to the top of the Mottarone mountain when the lead cable snapped. The gondola slipped back very fast until it pulled off the cable and tumbled to earth, where it rolled over before hitting trees.
It was still unclear why the lead cable snapped.
The cable car underwent major maintenance work between 2014 and 2016. Checks were carried out in 2017 and again last year by specialist technicians. Ferrovie Mottarone was not immediately available for comment.