ROME—Police arrested three people Wednesday in the cable car disaster that killed 14 people in northern Italy, saying an investigation showed a clamp, intentionally placed on the brake as a patchwork repair, prevented the brake from engaging after the lead cable snapped.
Carabinieri Lt. Col. Alberto Cicognani said at least one of the three people questioned overnight admitted to what happened. He said the fork-shaped clamp had been placed on the emergency brake to deactivate it because the brake was engaging spontaneously and preventing the funicular from working.
The clamp was put on several weeks ago as a temporary fix to prevent further service interruptions in the cable car line bringing sightseers to the top of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore. It was still in place on Sunday morning, Cicognani told Sky TG24.
After the lead cable snapped Sunday, the cabin reeled back down the line until it pulled off entirely, crashed to the ground and rolled over down the mountainside until it came to rest against some trees. Fourteen people were killed; the lone survivor, a five-year-old boy, remains hospitalized.
“Because of a malfunction, the brake was continuing to engage even when it wasn’t supposed to,” Cicognani told Sky. “To prevent the cabin from halting during the transport of passengers, they chose to not remove the dispositive that blocked the emergency brake.”
“In this way, the brake couldn’t function, and this brought about the fact that when the cable broke, the cabin fell backwards,” he said.
Sky and the LaPresse news agency identified the three people arrested as the owner of the cable car service, the company’s director, and the service chief.
Verbania Prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said the deactivation of the brake was clearly designed as a stop-gap measure to allow the funicular to continue operating. The more extensive, “radical” repair operation that was needed would have likely taken it out of service, she said.
Bossi told reporters that investigators believed the stop-gap measure was used with “the full knowledge” of the cable car company owners.
As a result, the arrests turned the horror of Sunday’s disaster into outrage, given it appeared to have been an entirely preventable tragedy.
Already, the mayor of the hometown of one of the victims, Serena Cosentino, announced that the city would pursue legal action against those responsible, saying it would present itself as an injured party in the civil portion of any possible prosecution.
“The news unfortunately is showing a broad plane of responsibility and omissive guilt,” Diamonte Mayor Ernesto Magorno said in a statement.
By Nicole Winfield