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Italy cable car crash: 3 men arrested over accident that killed 14, police say

Police believe the men “blocked the safety brakes,” said the commander in charge of the investigation.
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ROME — Three men were arrested Tuesday in connection with a cable car crash that killed 14 people, police in Italy told NBC News on Wednesday.

Luigi Nerini, the owner of the Ferrovie del Mottarone cable car company, will be remanded in custody at a prison in the city of Verbania for 48 hours, police said. Director Enrico Perocchio and Gabriele Tadini, an engineer at the company, will also be held, they added.

Investigators believe the men knew that a safety brake system in the cable car was disabled, police said.

The gondola came down Sunday as it was making the 20-minute journey from Stresa — a small town on the banks of Lake Maggiore around 55 miles north of Milan — to the summit of the Mottarone mountain in the Alps, almost 4,500 feet above sea level.

It was nearing the end of its journey when the lead cable snapped. The gondola slipped back at a rapid speed until it pulled off the cable and plunged 60 feet to the ground where it rolled over several times until it was stopped by trees. It was still unclear why the lead cable snapped.

There was only one survivor, a 5-year-old Israeli boy who was taken to the Regina Margherita Hospital in the city of Turin with fractures to his legs and trauma to his body.

He is in stable but critical condition and slowly coming out of a medically induced coma but is not yet conscious, hospital spokesman Paolo Berra said Wednesday.

Image: Scene of cable car crash in Italy
Police and rescue workers near a cable car that crashed to the ground in the resort town of Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy on Sunday.Italian State Police / AFP - Getty Images

Investigators believe that Perocchio, Nerini and Tadini “blocked the safety brakes because for the past month the cable car had been experiencing anomalies that made it stop frequently,” said Luca Geminale, the police commander in charge of the investigation in Verbania.

If the cable car stopped midjourney, "its recovery takes many hours as it needs to be done manually," he said, adding that this had "evident economic repercussions for the business.”

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into suspected involuntary manslaughter and negligence.

A lawyer for Nerini was not available to comment and it was not immediately possible to reach representatives for the other two.

The cables had been checked in November and no problems were found, according to Maurizio Todesco a spokesman for Leitner, the company in charge of the cable car’s maintenance.

“We are not aware of a problem with the braking system on that cable car, it was not flagged to us," he said.

"We are still trying to understand what happened, and why if there was a problem we were not involved. On April 30, we checked the brakes' hydraulic system, and it was all in order.”

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The cable car service had only recently reopened after coronavirus lockdowns closed ski lifts across Italy.

It first opened in August 1970 after almost three years of work to replace a cog railway, Ferrovie del Mottarone's website said.

The dual cable system is split into two sections, one just over a mile between Stresa and Alpino and the other about 2 more miles between Alpino and Mottarone, it said.

It consists of two cars, traveling in alternate directions, each carrying up to 40 passengers, it added.

Claudio Lavanga reported from Rome and Rachel Elbaum from London.