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Italy cable car disaster: First pictures of victims including couple celebrating 40th birthday

<p>Angelo Gasparro and Roberta Pistolato</p> (Handout)

Angelo Gasparro and Roberta Pistolato

(Handout)

A doctor working on the frontline of Italy’s battle with Covid-19 and five Israelis from a single family were on Monday revealed to be among 14 people who died when a cable car crashed onto a mountainside near Lake Maggiore.

Roberta Pistolato died in the tragedy as she celebrated her 40th birthday with her boyfriend Angelo Gasparro, 45.

According to reports Ms Pistolato sent a final text message to her sister about an hour before the disaster, saying: “We’re getting on the cable car”.

The accident happened on the service transporting people from the northern Italian town of Stresa up the nearby Mottarane mountain around 12.30pm local time on Sunday.

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Stresa mayor Marcella Severino said it appeared the cable broke, sending the car spinning until it hit a pylon and fell to the ground.

At that point, the car overturned “two or three times before hitting some trees”, she said. Some of those who died were thrown from the cabin.

The cable car was reportedly around 300m from the summit of the 1,491-metre mountain when the cable failed, sending it crashing 20m to the ground before it rolled down the slope.

Engaged couple Silvia Malnati and Alessandro Merlo were going up the mountain to enjoy the view
Engaged couple Silvia Malnati and Alessandro Merlo were going up the mountain to enjoy the view

The victims also included five Israelis from one family. Israel’s Foreign Ministry named them today as Amit Biran, 30, and Tal Biran, 26, a couple who were living in Italy, their two-year-old boy Tom, and Ms Biran’s parents Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen, aged 71 and 81.

The Birans’ other son, five-year-old Eitan, was on Monday fighting for life in hospital.

Engaged couple Silvia Malnati 27, and Alessandro Merlo, 29, were also reported to have died in the tragedy.

Images from the site showed the crumpled car in a clearing of a thick patch of pine trees near the summit of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore.

“It was a terrible, terrible scene,” Ms Severino told Italy’s SkyTG24.

The plunge on the the Stresa-Mottarone line happened about 100m before the final pylon, in a spot where the cables were particularly high off the ground, said Walter Milan, spokesman for Italy’s Alpine rescue service.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone lineAP
Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone lineAP

He said 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 Mr Milan said that many families were taking advantage of the weather to enjoy a day out 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 1,491m (4,900ft) and overlooks several picturesque lakes and the surrounding Alps of Italy’s Piedmont region.

Italian premier Mario Draghi offered his condolences to the families of the victims “with a particular thought about the seriously injured children and their families”.

Emergency workers surround the wreckageGetty Images
Emergency workers surround the wreckageGetty Images

The trip up the mountain from the base at the lake features a cable car to get up halfway 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, offering a view of seven lakes at the peak.

It appeared to be Italy’s worst cable car disaster since 1998 when a low-flying US 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.

It is 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.

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