Italy cable car bosses ‘disabled emergency brake to make more money after being hit by Covid lockdown’ before 14 died
THREE managers of a cable car that crashed and killed 14 people have allegedly admitted disabling an emergency brake to avoid closing for crucial repairs and losing out on income.
A carriage travelling at 100mph was catapulted 54 metres before plummeting to the ground in Stresa, Northern Italy, on Sunday, killing a family of five and several couples.
The catastrophic event lasted around 30 seconds and began as the car neared the summit and then shot back down towards a pylon, before flying into the air and smashing into the ground.
Three managers from the operator of the cable car have been accused of deliberately deactivating the emergency braking system which could have stopped the car soaring backwards when the cable snapped.
The suspects have been named as company owner Luigi Nerini, 56, and two other managers, Gabriele Tadini and Enrico Perocchio.
The trio have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated manslaughter and two other offences related to the incident, Italian media reports.
Investigators said the emergency braking system had been "tampered with" instead of carrying out the costly "radical intervention" it required to fix the problem.
'IT WAS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE'
Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said the tourist site had reopened after a Covid closure in late April and operators used a jerry-rigged clamp to avoid having to shut the attraction for the "more extensive" repairs and risk losing money.
"It was a conscious choice, absolutely conscious. That's it," prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told reporters.
"It was not an occasional omission or forgetfulness.
"It was a conscious decision to disarm… to deactivate this emergency system in order to remedy what we have been told were problems, technical problems that were occurring on the line."
Bossi added: "This was a deliberate choice for economic reasons; the cable car should have been closed."
The prosecutor said it still wasn't clear why the lead cable snapped or whether it was related to the brake problem.
But she said the intentional deactivation of the brake – done "several times" over recent weeks for a persistent problem – prevented the brake from doing its job.
"Certainly Sunday was not the first day and this has been admitted," Bossi told reporters.
Alberto Cicognani, a police official, said the fork-shaped clamp had been placed on the emergency brake to deactivate it because the brake was "engaging spontaneously" and stopped the cable car from working.
"Was the brake deactivated deliberately? Yes, yes, they admitted it,” Cicognani said yesterday, according to The Times.
"There were malfunctions in the cable car, the maintenance firm was called, they didn’t solve the problem, or only partly.
"To avoid further disruptions to the service, they chose to leave a ‘fork’ inserted which stops the emergency brake working."
The mayor of the hometown of one of the victims, Serena Cosentino, said the city would pursue legal action against those responsible.
"The news, unfortunately, is showing a broad picture of responsibility and omissive guilt," Mayor Ernesto Magorno said in a statement.
Eitan Biran, 5, the sole survivor of the horror crash, lost five members of his family in the tragedy.
Eitan's parents Amit Biran, 30, and Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, and his two-year-old brother Tom were killed.
Tal's grandparents Barbara, 71, and Yitzhak Cohen, 81, who were visiting from Israel, also died in the crash.
Eitan is beginning to wake up in hospital after he was placed in a coma with head injuries and a broken leg.
Tragically, the youngster asked "where's mummy" as he woke up in hospital in Turin.
The family, originally from Israel, lived in northern Italy where Amit worked at a clinic in Pavia, after studying medicine in the city, and his psychology graduate wife looked after their sons.
Members of the Jewish community attended a prayer ceremony for the victims at Verbania Hospital on Wednesday, before the bodies were released to their families.
Roberta Pistolato, a doctor working on the frontline of Italy's battle against Covid, also died in the tragedy as she celebrated her 40th birthday with her boyfriend Angelo Gasparro, 45.
And Vittorio Zorloni, 55, and his 37-year-old partner Elisabetta Personini were killed along with and their five-year-old son Mattia.
The accident also claimed the lives of Serena Cosetino, 27, a scientific researcher, and her 30-year-old boyfriend Mohammed Reza Shahisavandi, an Iranian student, who also worked in a bar in Rome.
Engaged couple Silvia Malnati 27, and Alessandro Merlo, 29, were also killed.
The crash is Italy's worst cable car disaster since 1998 when 20 people were killed after a warplane accidentally severed a supporting cable.
Checks had been carried out in 2017 and last year by specialist technicians after previously undergoing major maintenance work.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini said on Monday: "The government, as well all the institutions, are naturally committed to understanding the causes, to understanding what happened."
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