The sole survivor from Italy’s devastating cable-car crash is a 5-year-old boy who lost his entire family in the accident.
The little boy lost his mother, father, 2-year-old brother and grandparents in the tragedy in northern Italy.
Investigators are trying to work out what went wrong with the cable car, which plunged about 20m to the ground as it was approaching the top of a mountain overlooking Lake Maggiore in the northern region of Piedmont.
The family, who were Israeli, were among the 14 people who died in the accident. The other victims were all Italian, with the exception of a young man of Iranian origin.
The Israelis were named as father Amit Biran, 30, who was studying medicine, his wife Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, and their 2-year-old son Tom, who all lived in the Italian city of Pavia.
The toddler died after multiple efforts to restart his heart failed, doctors said.
Tal Peleg-Bilan’s grandparents, Barbara Cohen Konisky, 71, and Yitzhak Cohen, 81, from Tel Aviv, also died.
They were visiting from Israel and had come to Italy seeking a respite from the recent violence, which saw Hamas fire hundreds of rockets towards cities such as Tel Aviv while Israeli forces launched attacks on the Gaza Strip.
“Yitzhak and Barbara wanted to see the great-grandchildren. Rockets were falling in Israel and they thought, ‘What can happen in Italy?'” said Aya Biran, the sister of Amit Biran.
The 5-year-old boy, Eitan Biran, is in a critical condition in hospital in Turin. Giovanni La Valle, the director of the hospital, said doctors were following the child’s condition “minute by minute”.
“We await the next 48 hours, the situation is critical but there’s still hope.”
He was the only person to survive when the cable car plummeted from its wires, smashed into the ground and rolled two or three times before being blocked by pine trees on the slopes of the mountain.
The Israeli foreign ministry said that his aunt – the sister of his father – was by his side and other members of the family were due to arrive from Israel on Monday.
Milo Hatzbani, the president of the Jewish community in Milan, said the collapse of the cable car was “a great disaster”.
“I know the father well, I spoke to him last Friday. He told me he decided to go for a trip with the children and with the grandparents who came from Israel,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
The 20-minute cable car ride links the town of Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, with the 1500m summit of Mottarone mountain, where visitors enjoy hiking and biking trails as well as magnificent views of the Alps.
Preliminary reports suggest that, as the cable car was a few hundred yards from its destination on the mountain summit, a cable broke.
The cabin went into a rapid reversal, slammed into a pylon and then plummeted to the ground.
Investigators want to know why the cable car’s emergency brake mechanism did not work.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected involuntary manslaughter and negligence.
“We are starting from the empirical evidence. The cable sheared and the system of safety brakes clearly did not work,” said Olimpia Bossi, a prosecutor.
There may have been two factors responsible for the tragedy, said Matteo Gasparini, the regional head of the alpine rescue service.
“They are all suppositions, but I think there has been a double problem, the breakup of the cable and the non-working of the emergency brake,” he told Italian newspaper La Stampa. “We don’t know why it didn’t activate, while in the downstream car it worked.”
The cable car route was renovated between 2014 and 2016 at a cost of around €4 million.
It had only recently reopened after the pandemic forced the closure of ski lifts and mountain resorts across Italy.
Enrico Giovannini, Italy’s transport minister, visited the site of the disaster on Monday.
He said the aim of the investigative commission would be to “ensure this never happens again”.
The transport ministry said that after the funicular line’s renovation, a full maintenance check was performed in 2017.
Late last year, further inspections were performed on the cables themselves, including magnetic inspections on the primary cables of the lift: the cable that pulls the cabin up the mountain, the support cable that holds the car and the rescue cables.
The cable car hit the ground with such impact that several bodies were hurled into the forest, rescuers said.
Among the other victims were an Italian researcher, Serena Consentino, and her Iranian-born companion, Mohammadreza Shahaisavandi.
Serenas Consentino had a research grant at Italy’s National Council of Research, a well respected body.
Also killed at the scene were Vittorio Zorloni and his wife, Elisabetta Persanini. Their 6-year-old son, Mattia, died at Regina Margherita after multiple efforts to restart his heart, hospital officials said.
Another couple, Roberta Pistolato and Angelo Vito Gasparro were celebrating Gasparro’s 45th birthday.
According to La Stampa, Pistolato texted her sister in Puglia shortly before the tragedy: “We’re going up in the funicular. It’s paradise here.”
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