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14 Die As Italy Cable Car Plummets

February 3, 1998

TRENTO, Italy (AP) _ A U.S. Marine jet severed a cable car line at a ski resort in northern Italy today, sending at least 14 people in one car plunging to their deaths on the snow-covered mountain.

The accident occurred in mid-afternoon under clear skis over the Val di Fassa area of the Dolomite Mountains near Trento, about 90 miles east of Milan.

The plane was engaged in a training exercise and one of its wings cut the cable, said police official Roberto Cavada. He said the pilot _ who was on a solo mission _ was unaware of having severed the line.

The cable car plummeted 240-300 feet, killing 13 skiers and the car’s operator, Cavada said. At least six of the victims were Germans, Cavada said.

``There was a huge confusion _helicopters, ambulances, police were all over the place,″ said Alberto Pintori, a resident of the town of Cavalese who saw the scene 1 1/2-hours after the accident.

Phone lines at nearby hotels were jammed with calls from worried relatives of vacationers.

The resort tends to attract local people and families _ unlike the more fashionable ski spots like Cortina d’Ampezzo or Courmayeur _though it does have a foreign clientele.

Rescue workers evacuated passengers from the line’s other cable car, which was on its way down and remained suspended, police said.

RAI state television footage showed the crushed wreckage of the yellow cable car resting on the snow.

The plane was an EA-6B Marine Prowler, stationed at the U.S. air base in Aviano, about 60 miles east of the ski resort, said Senior Airman Monte Volk, a spokesman at the base.

Volk said the plane was on a ``low-level training mission″ when the accident occurred at 3:15 p.m. He said it was unclear what caused the accident.

The EA-6B surveillance craft returned safely to base but sustained minor, unspecified damage, Volk said.

Base officials were investigating the case, and had spoken to the pilot. Another spokesman, Air Force Staff Sgt. John Tomassi said the pilot was on a solo flight. The plane normally carries a crew of four.

The Prowler has been taking part in patrols over Bosnia as part of the NATO mission enforcing the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war, Tomassi said.

It was part of the Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, based in Cherry Point, N.C.

The cable car had just begun its ascent from the base at Cavalese, at an altitude of 3,000 feet, and was heading toward a mid-station when it fell, said Alessia Dezugliana, an employee of the Alpe Cermis ski area. The cable car’s destination is at an altitude of 6,000 feet.

The cable car travels from the town of Cavalese to the top of Cermis mountain. It has a capacity of about 40 people.

An accident at the same cable car line in 1976 killed 42 people. Blame for that accident was laid on the suspension of an automatic safety system.

Update hourly