Stresa–Mottarone cable car crash

On 23 May 2021, an aerial tram on the Stresa–Alpino–Mottarone Cable Car crashed to the ground after a traction or haulage cable snapped about five metres (16 ft) from the summit of Mottarone, a mountain near Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. Normally, a pneumatic safety brake would have stopped the runaway car immediately but the cable car was operating illegally with the brake disabled. The crash killed fourteen passengers in the cable car,[1][2] and seriously injured one child.[3][4] According to the National Alpine Speleological Rescue Corps, which led the rescue operation, the cable car was traveling on a line connecting the town of Stresa with the summit of Mottarone when it plunged into a wooded area.[5]

Stresa–Mottarone cable car crash
Lago-Maggiore 1391.JPG
A Stresa–Mottarone cable car in 2009
Date23 May 2021 (2021-05-23)
Time12:22 CEST (UTC+02)
LocationMottarone, Piedmont, Italy
Coordinates45°53′01″N 8°27′57″E / 45.8835°N 8.4658°E / 45.8835; 8.4658Coordinates: 45°53′01″N 8°27′57″E / 45.8835°N 8.4658°E / 45.8835; 8.4658
Deaths14
Non-fatal injuries1

BackgroundEdit

The Stresa–Alpino–Mottarone Cable Car is an aerial tramway, a form of cable line in which cabins are suspended from a fixed cable and hauled by a separate traction cable to which they are permanently attached, with cabins shuttling backwards and forwards instead of running in a continuous loop. The Stresa–Mottarone line had two separate sections, each with two cabins, and passengers change cabin at the mid-point station of Alpino, between the Stresa and Mottarone stations.[6][7]

Construction work for the cable car began in 1967, carried out by the firm Poscio, under the guidance of architect Mario Cracchi from nearby Baveno. Cable-car-specific construction was carried out by Piemonte Funivie from Turin. The original cables were produced by Westfälische Drahtindustrie GmbH in Hamm, Germany. The last upgrade of the Stresa-Mottarone aerial tramway cars took place in 2002, undertaken by Poma Italia. The cables were replaced from 2014 until 2016 by Leitner Ropeways. With Leitner, Poma had been part of the HTI Group since 2000.

In a press release, Leitner, which had carried out maintenance on the cable car in the years prior to the incident, published details of maintenance work and safety checks performed on the cable car, stating that they had been carried out according to the current safety regulations and the maintenance contract. The company stated that all cables, including the carrier cables, were checked with magnetic induction in November 2020, and the automatic brake was tested with both cabins in December 2020; the test involved a simulated rupture of the haulage cable. From 29 March to 1 April 2021, Leitner employees checked all mechanical safety components, and the hydraulic brakes of the vehicles were checked and maintained on 3 May. The company also stated that daily and weekly checks and maintenance were carried out by the transport company itself, in adherence to the issued user's manual.[8]

The cable car had not been operating for a period of time until 26 April 2021 as a result of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The cable car was designed for a carrying capacity of 47 people,[7] but the cabin capacity had been reduced as a COVID-19 precaution.

IncidentEdit

The crash occurred at 12:22 p.m. CEST (10:22 a.m. UTC) as a cabin was ascending on the line's upper section from the middle station at Alpino towards the summit of Mottarone. When the haulage cable snapped, in very close proximity to the summit station at low speed, the cabin careered until it collided with a pylon, then fell about 54 meters (180 ft) before tumbling down the steep slope of the mountain, stopping after impacting trees. Footage captured by a surveillance camera from the summit station depicted the cabin suddenly and violently being pulled backwards at the moment the cable snapped while approaching the platform.[9] Hikers reported hearing a loud hiss shortly before the crash, believed to have been caused by at least one of the cable lines snapping. Some of those who died were thrown from the cabin as it tumbled.[4][10] Television imagery later showed the snapped, thinner traction cable hanging from the pylon.

CasualtiesEdit

Thirteen people died at the scene of the accident,[11] while two children were seriously injured and airlifted to a pediatric hospital in Turin. One of the children later died of cardiac arrest, bringing the death toll to fourteen.[12][13] The deceased victims were identified as eight Italian nationals, of whom three were from Vedano Olona, two from Varese, two from Bari, and one from Cosenza; an Iranian male national;[14] and a three-generation family of five Israeli nationals.[15][16] The only survivor was the Israeli family's five-year-old son.[17][18]

The crash was Italy's deadliest cable car incident since the 1998 Cavalese cable car crash.[10]

InvestigationEdit

On 26 May 2021, three employees of the cable-car company were arrested. One of the three worked as a freelancer for the company but was an employee of Leitner Ropeways, the company in charge of regular maintenance work on the cable car.[19] According to police, they had intentionally deactivated the automatic emergency brake as a malfunction had repeatedly led to the halting of the cabins.[20] After the service resumed on 25 April, the cable car showed "anomalies". The cable car had been travelling in that way for several days and had made several trips. Technical checks were performed, including a check on 3 May 2021 to "remedy inefficiencies", but they had not been "decisive" in resolving issues, investigators said. Based on photos from the disaster site, experts have been able to determine that at least one of the gondola's brakes had been disabled with a steel clamp, which is usually employed during specific maintenance activities.[21] If the emergency brakes had been functional, they would have held the cabin steady after the cable snapped. The move was made "in the belief that a cable breakage could never have happened".[22] The operations manager admitted that the emergency brake had been manipulated. Due to continuing hydraulic oil leakage, which apparently was not repaired, repeated spurious activation of the emergency brake occurred and, to maintain the operation of the cable car, they deactivated the emergency brake.[23] The reason for the breaking of the haulage cable is unknown.

Images provided by a Swiss cable car technician[24] and shared by him on YouTube[25] show that the Stresa–Mottarone cable car had previously been operated with passengers aboard, with emergency brakes disabled, in 2014 and 2018.

Several other cable car disasters have occurred in the past due to an intentional deactivation of emergency brakes, including the 1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident and the 1999 Saint-Étienne-en-Dévoluy cable car crash.

Media controversyEdit

In June 2021, Italy's public broadcaster, RAI, aired CCTV footage of the incident on its news programme. Shortly after, it was republished in full on other media outlets in Italy. The case prosecutor, local Mayor Marcella Severino, politician Valeria Fedeli and head of public broadcast Marcello Foa expressed condemnation over the broadcast of the footage and urged companies and individuals to stop sharing it.[26]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Incidente alla funivia Stresa-Mottarone, caduta una cabina: sono salite a 13 le vittime". La Stampa. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  2. ^ "Cable Car Accident in Italy Kills 14 People | May 24, 2021". The Daily NewsBrief (in American English). 2021-05-24. Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  3. ^ "Italy cable car fall: At least 13 dead after accident near Lake Maggiore". BBC News (in British English). 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  4. ^ a b "Italian cable car crash kills at least 13, injures three". Reuters. 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  5. ^ Barbie Latza Nadeau and Nicola Ruotolo. "At least 12 killed as Italian cable car plunges into woodland". CNN. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  6. ^ "47-AT Alpino - Mottarone". seilbahntechnik.net. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Alpino-Mottarone (2. Sektion)". www.skiresort.info. Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  8. ^ "Gondola Life Stresa-Mottarone: A List of All Checks and Maintenance Works Performed by Leitner in Recent Months" (PDF). Leitner. 2021-05-24. p. 1.
  9. ^ Giuffrida, Fabio (2021-06-16). "Dalla telecamera di sorveglianza del Mottarone la tragedia della funivia – Il video". Open (in Italian). Retrieved 2021-06-17.
  10. ^ a b Winfield, Nicole (23 May 2021). "Italian cable car plunges to the ground, killing at least 13". Associated Press. Retrieved 23 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "Italy cable car fall: 14 dead after accident near Lake Maggiore". BBC.
  12. ^ "Italian cable car crash kills 14 people, child seriously hurt". Reuters (in British English). 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  13. ^ "La gita, poi il volo nel vuoto: chi sono le 14 vittime al Mottarone". ilGiornale.it (in Italian). 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  14. ^ "Tragedia a Stresa: precipita una cabina della funivia: salgono a 14 i morti. Deceduto uno dei bambini feriti". La Stampa (in Italian). 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  15. ^ "אסון הרכבל באיטליה: חמישה ישראלים נהרגו, חלקם בני משפחה אחת". Israel Hayom (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2021-05-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "איטליה: 5 ישראלים בני משפחה אחת נהרגו בקריסת רכבל באלפים". Ynet (in Hebrew). 2021-05-23. Retrieved 2021-05-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ "5 Israelis killed in Italian cable car crash confirmed as members of one family". The Times of Israel. 2021-05-24. Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  18. ^ Chilai, Sivan (2021-05-26). ""זה סיוט, הטרגדיה של המשפחה": ארונות הרוגי אסון הרכבל נחתו בישראל". ynet (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2021-05-26.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ "Seilbahnunglück: Angestellter der Firma Leitner festgenommen" [Gondola crash: employee of Leitner company arrested]. rainews.it (in German). Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  20. ^ "Drei Verhaftungen in Stresa". 26 May 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  21. ^ "Italian cable car brakes 'tampered with', say prosecutors". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  22. ^ "Gondelabsturz: Notbremse war offenbar bewusst deaktiviert" [Gondola crash: Emergency brake was, apparently, intentionally disabled]. Swiss Radio and Television SRF (in German). Retrieved 2021-05-26.
  23. ^ ""Vor Gott verantworten"". Südtiroler Zeitung. 2021-05-29. Retrieved 2021-05-29.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ "Verunfallte Gondel seit Jahren manipuliert?" [Mishap gondola manipulated since years?]. Swiss Radio and Television SRF (in German). 2021-06-01.
  25. ^ "Funivia Monte Mottarone, Freno di sicurezza soppresso, Fangbremse unterstellt! Seit 2014!!". 2021-06-01.
  26. ^ "Italy cable car: Outrage as video of the crash shown on TV". BBC News. BBC News. Retrieved 17 June 2021.