ROME (AP) — A cable car taking visitors to a mountaintop view of some of northern Italy‘s most picturesque lakes plunged to the ground Sunday, killing at least 12 people and sending two children to the hospital, authorities said.
Rescue crews were continuing to search the area given possible indications that a 15th person might have been in the cable car, said Walter Milan, spokesman for Italy’s Alpine rescue service. The scene of the wreckage showed the crushed and crumpled remains of the cable car in a clearing of a thick patch of pine trees near the summit of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore.
At that location, about 100 meters (yards) before the final pilon, the cables of the lift were particularly high off the ground, said Walter Milan, spokesman for the Alpine rescue service. The cause hasn’t been determined.
Milan noted that the cable line had been renovated in 2016 and had only recently reopened after coronavirus lockdowns forced the closures of ski lifts across Italy.
Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day in the area, and Milan hypothesized that families were taking advantage of the weather to enjoy a day in nature after months of lockdown. Italy only reopened a few weeks ago, allowing travel between regions after a winter of COVID-19 restrictions.
Mottarone reaches a height of 1,491 meters (4,900 feet) and overlooks several picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region. Milan said a total of 15 people were believed to be in the cable car at the time, though the exact number wasn’t certain. The two children were in serious condition and were taken to a Turin hospital, Milan said.
Premier Mario Draghi offered his condolences to the families of the victims “with a particular thought about the seriously injured children and their families.”
The trip up the mountain from the base at the lake features a cable car to get up most of the way and then a chairlift to reach a small amusement park, Alpyland, further up that has a children’s rollercoaster offering 360-degree views of the scenery.
The site offers mountain bike paths and hiking trails, as is common for many Italian mountain areas that are popular with tourists and locals in spring and summer.
The Stresa-Mottarone cable car line advertises a panoramic, 20-minute trip up the mountain from its base at the lake, offering a view of a total of seven lakes at the peak.
It 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, was following the rescue effort, which involved the deployment of three helicopters to the mountainside.
While the cause hasn’t been determined, it’s the latest incident to raise questions about the quality of Italy’s transport infrastructure. In 2018, the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed after years of neglect, killing 43 people.