ROME (AP) — 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 13 people and sending two children to the hospital in serious condition, authorities said.
Stresa Mayor Marcella Severino said it appeared that a cable broke, sending the car careening until it hit a pylon and then fell to the ground. At that point, the car overturned “two or three times before hitting some trees,” she said. Some of those who died were thrown from the cabin.
The Italian government announced a commission to investigate the disaster, which is likely to renew questions about the quality of Italy’s transport infrastructure.
Images from the site showed the crumpled car in a clearing of a thick patch of pine trees near the summit of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore. The car was believed to have fallen around 15 meters (yards), according to Italian media.
“It was a terrible, terrible scene,” Severino told Italy’s SkyTG24.
The plunge on the the Stresa-Mottarone line happened about 100 meters (yards) before the final pylon, said Walter Milan, spokesman for Italy’s Alpine rescue service.
There was initially confusion about the number of injured, but the rescue service tweeted the “definitive toll” stood at 13 dead and two injured.
Milan noted that the cable line had been renovated in 2016 and had only recently reopened after coronavirus lockdowns in Italy curtailed travel and forced the suspension of many leisure activities. Milan suggested many families may have flocked to the mountain on a sunny Sunday after months of restrictions.
The line is popular with tourists and locals alike to scale Mottarone, which reaches a height of 1,491 meters (4,900 feet) and overlooks several picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region.
The mountain hosts a small amusement park, Alpyland, that has a children’s rollercoaster, and the area also has mountain bike paths and hiking trails.
Premier Mario Draghi offered his condolences to the families of the victims “with a particular thought about the seriously injured children and their families.”
Sunday’s tragedy appeared to be Italy’s worst cable car disaster since 1998 when a low-flying U.S. military jet cut through the cable of a ski lift in Cavalese, in the Dolomites, killing 20 people.
Italy’s transport minister, Enrico Giovannini, announced a commission to look into the tragedy and said he had already requested data on the maintenance work and inspections done on the line in the past. He planned to visit the site Monday.
While the cause hasn’t been determined, the disaster was likely to raise questions about Italy’s transport infrastructure. In 2018, the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed after years of neglect, killing 43 people.
In 2009, a freight train carrying gas derailed at the Viareggio station, near Lucca, and exploded, killing 32 people. Poorly maintained axels of the train were blamed.
President Sergio Mattarella, in offering his condolences, called for the “rigorous respect of all security norms for all conditions that concern the transport of people.”