Profit put before safety in Italy cable car disaster, prosecutors say

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A crashed cable car is seen after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. ALPINE RESCUE SERVICE/Handout via REUTERS

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Three men arrested over a cable car crash that killed 14 people in northern Italy knew there were technical problems with the cabins, but kept them running for financial reasons, prosecutors said in a legal filing.

The cable way connecting the northern town of Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, to the nearby Mottarone mountain plunged to the ground on Sunday after the lead cable snapped, killing all aboard apart from a five-year-old Israeli boy.

The owner of the cable-car company and two employees were aware the system was not working properly and deliberately placed fork-shaped clamps on the emergency brakes to prevent them from constantly kicking in, prosecutors said.

“The charges are extremely serious due to the deliberate intention to circumvent the security system for reasons of profit, totally disregarding basic safety rules,” said the detention order drawn up by the prosecutors and seen by Reuters.

Lawyers for the three men contacted by Reuters made no immediate comment.

The prosecutors wrote that one of the three men had admitted to disabling the brakes in agreement with the other two suspects in order to prevent having to shut down the popular lift.

“They have chosen to endanger the lives of other people for their own profit,” chief prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said in an interview with La Stampa newspaper. She added that investigators still did not know why the lead cable had snapped.

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The cable car was closed for much of the year because of curbs limiting the spread of coronavirus. The service only resumed last month, but prosecutors believe the technical problems surfaced almost immediately, meaning the brakes might have been disabled for several weeks.

The first funerals of some of the victims took place in both Italy and Israel on Thursday. The bodies of the five Israeli victims – a young couple, their child and their grandparents – were sent home on Wednesday.

The eldest child of the couple – the only survivor of the disaster – is still in hospital and is responding to treatment, his doctors said.

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