Doctors to wake five-year-old survivor of Italian cable car tragedy

Doctors will today wake five-year-old sole survivor of Italian tragedy that claimed the lives of his parents, brother and great-grandparents as it is revealed cable car ‘catapulted’ when brakes failed

  • Eitan Biran is in intensive care in a Turin hospital following Sunday’s fatal crash
  • The incident killed all other 14 passengers and left Eitan in a critical condition
  • Doctors said the young boy was saved by his father Amit’s protective embrace
  • Amit, his wife Tal, their other son Tom and Tal’s grandparents all died on Sunday
  • The cause of the crash near the summit of the Mottarone mountain is believed to have been a snapped cable, brake malfunction, or both
  • Investigations into the exact cause of the horrific incident continue 

Doctors will today wake the five-year-old survivor of the Italian cable car crash, which killed his parents, brother and great-grandparents.

Eitan Biran is in intensive care following the incident in northern Italy on Sunday in which all 14 other passengers were killed.

Doctors said Eitan, who is unconscious and suffering multiple broken bones, was protected by father Amit who ‘wrapped his son in an instinctive embrace’ and shielded him from blows that ultimately killed everyone around him – including mother Tal, brother Tom, and both his great-grandparents.  

‘He is still under intensive care, intubated and sedated,’ a spokesman for the Citta della Salute hospital in Turin, where Eitan is being treated, told AFP news agency.

‘[On Tuesday] doctors will slowly try to wake him up and are cautiously optimistic,’ the spokesman said.  

Eitan’s aunt and grandparents are at his bedside at the hospital in Turin, where doctors said on Monday that he needed to undergo a brain scan to see how badly injured he was. The next two days will be ‘crucial’ for his recovery, they said yesterday. 

Investigators on Monday were probing the cause of the horrific crash that took place near the summit of the Mottarone mountain, a scenic location overlooking Lake Maggiore in the northwest region of Piedmont. 

Amit Biran, 30 (left), his wife Tal, 26 (right), and their two-year-old son Tom were among those killed in the cable car crash in Italy. Eldest son Eitan, five, is now fighting for life in hospital. Tal’s grandparents Itshak and Barbara were also killed

The cable car crashed to the ground after the cable broke, according to first reports, while several officials, including a member of the emergency services and a prosecutor, said the security brake had failed to function

The cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres (1,600 feet), before coming to a stop, according to news reports

The cable car crashed to the ground after the cable broke, according to first reports, while several officials, including a member of the emergency services and a prosecutor, said the security brake had failed to function. 

The fatal accident near the end of the 20-minute ride up the mountain may have had a dual cause, according to the regional head of Italy’s alpine rescue team, Matteo Gasparini.

‘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 La Stampa daily.

‘We don’t know why it didn’t activate, while in the downstream car it worked.’

That meant the cable car began quickly falling back and picking up speed before it ‘ended up catapulted out of the support cables,’ Gasparini said.  

The cable car hit a pylon, then hit the ground, tumbling down the mountain for about 500 metres (1,600 feet), before coming to a stop, according to news reports. 

‘There are various aspects of this affair that will certainly be clarified,’ Transport Minister Enrico Giovanni said after visiting Stresa, the town at the base of the cable car. 

Prosecutors opened an investigation on Sunday into potential charges of involuntary manslaughter, while a government-commissioned inquiry by technical experts was also under way.

Leitner, the company in charge of maintenance, said the brake system was last checked on May 3, while a simulated emergency, involving a cable breakage and the activation of the emergency brake, was successfully conducted in December. 

Several other tests and maintenance work was done in recent months ‘as prescribed by current legislation,’ Leitner said, vowing to help investigators ‘find as soon as possible the causes of the terrible tragedy’.

Sunday’s crash was the first fatal incident involving a cable car in Italy since 1998, when a low-flying US military jet severed a cable at a ski resort, killing 20 people.

It came at the start of the country’s much-anticipated reopening to tourists after coronavirus closures.      

Rescuers found five bodies still inside the cable car, with the others strewn outside.

Among the dead were Eitan’s family, including great-grandparents Itshak and Barbara Cohen, 82 and 70; Alessandro Merlo, 29, his fiancee Silvia Malnati, 27; husband Angelo Vito Gasparro, 45, and wife Roberta Pistolato; Vittorio Zorloni, his fiancee Elisabetta Persanini, 38, and the couple’s five-year-old son Mattia; and couple Serena Cosentino, 27, and Mohammadreza Shahaisavandi, 23. 

Investigators on Monday were probing the cause of the horrific crash that took place near the summit of the Mottarone mountain, a scenic location overlooking Lake Maggiore in the northwest region of Piedmont. Pictured: People in Stresa stand in front of a newsstand displaying a daily with the headline: ‘Mottarone tragedy with 14 dead’

Pictured: A floral tribute outside the front of the Stresa to Mottarone cable car station on Monday

Eitan, the young survivor, whose parents were born in Israel and were residents in Italy, was immediately airlifted to the Turin hospital.

He suffered injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen and various leg fractures, media reports said. 

His parents had recently returned from Israel, where they were born, to Pavia where Amit worked in medicine at the university, and were on a family day out to the Alps with Tal’s grandparents when disaster hit. 

An expert in technical construction at the Polytechnic University of Milan, Gianpaolo Rosati, told AFP that it would take time before laboratory tests on the cable’s mechanisms, including the snapped cable itself, were completed.

He said the cable could have been corroded, or overused, but added: ‘Usually there is not one sole cause, but a series of causes that unfortunately combine in the worst way and cause a tragedy.’

The head of Italian consumer protection group, Codacons, said the accident was ‘just the latest serious incident’ involving the transport sector, a list that includes the 2018 collapse of a major highway bridge in Genoa that killed 43 people.

‘After the massacre of the [Genoa] Morandi Bridge, the derailments of trains, the seizures of bridges and viaducts at risk throughout Italy, the shipwrecks of cruise ships, it is clear that in our country something is not working in terms of transport safety controls,’ Codacons President Carlo Rienzi said in a statement. 

The Mottarone cable car popular with tourists

Lake Maggiore cableway mountain cable car cabin stock

The Mottarone cable car was opened in 1970. It reaches a height of 4,900 feet and takes tourists from the town of Stresa, to the top of the mountain, in 20 minutes.  

Mount Mottarone is considered a ‘natural balcony’ and boasts panoramic views across the Po Valley to the Alps. 

Seven lakes are visible from the summit, which is a 15 minute walk from the cable car station, they include Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest, Lake Orta and Lake Mergozzo.

The area became popular in the early 1900s when the area opened up for skiing and winter sports.   

Since it has seen many people go to enjoy scenic walks, including the Mottarone Alpino Stressa route, a four hour walk from the top of Mottarone which is reached by cable car.

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