Rome (AFP) -
Fourteen people died including five Israelis on Sunday when a cable car slammed into the side of a mountain in northern Italy, emergency services said.
An Israeli couple living in Italy died along with one child, while their five-year-old was fighting for his life with brain trauma and broken legs, according to the Alpine rescue service.
A nine-year-old Italian child was also among the dead, it said, adding that the toll could rise further from the accident in Stresa, a resort town on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy's Piedmont region, it said.
President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi expressed their 'profound grief', offering condolences to the victims' families as regional as well as EU leaders expressed their sorrow and shock.
The 20-minute cable car ride, popular with tourists, links Stresa with the 1,500-metre (4,900-foot) summit of the Mottarone mountain, and offers spectacular views of the Alps.
The ministry of infrastructure said in a statement that the accident occurred around 12:30 pm (1030 GMT) as the cabin, with 15 people aboard and a maximum capacity of 35, was about 100 metres from the summit.
The ministry said the accident appeared to have been caused by a ruptured cable near the top of the route.
Stresa Mayor Marcella Severino said the cable car 'began to go backwards (and) probably hit a pylon.'
Infrastructure Minister Enrico Giovannini announced an enquiry into what he called 'a dramatic occurrence which we are following most attentively'.
Down in the village, people were stunned by the news of the accident.
'I came to Stresa with a group of friends. Our plan was to go up Mount Mottarone because the view is beautiful from there,' said Luisa Tesserin, a 27-year-old student from Genoa.
'We got on the cable car an hour before the tragedy. When we got on, the cable car didn't give any strange signals, everything was fine. When they told us the news, we were shocked,' Tesserin told AFP.
- 'Maintenance done' -
'All the maintenance has been done. They've spent a lot of money, they've done a lot of work,' Angelo Garavaglia, the 59-year-old owner of the Idrovolante restaurant at the foot of the cable car, told AFP.
'I think it was an accident because the system is in good order, the maintenance companies are leaders in Italy. It was an accident: it's up to the technicians to explain what happened,' he added.
Regional president Alberto Cirio said he was 'devastated' at what he termed 'an enormous tragedy which takes our breath away'.
Giovanni Toti, president of the neighbouring region of Liguria, noted that the accident occurred just as Italy was emerging from months of Covid-related restrictions.
Sunday, he said, was supposed to have been 'a day of reopening rich in hope'.
European Council President Charles Michel sent out a tweet in Italian expressing his 'most sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost a loved one in this tragic accident'.
Milan prosecutors opened an investigation into involuntary homicide and negligence.
Fire service images showed debris from the white and red cabin in a steep wooded area where access appeared difficult.
The cable car was closed between 2014 and 2016 for maintenance work.
Europe has seen a number of similar cable car accidents over the past 50 years.
Nine German skiers were killed on September 5, 2005, when an 800 kilo (1,760 pound) concrete block fell from a helicopter transporting it near the popular Austrian Tyrol resort of Soelden onto a cable carrying their cabin.
In February 1998, a low-flying US military jet severed a cable at Cavalese, a ski resort in Italy's Dolomites, killing 20 people.
Cavalese was also the scene of a 1976 disaster when a steel supporting cable broke, killing 42 people.