Italy investigates suspected kidnapping of boy who survived cable car crash

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Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation after a six-year-old boy who was the only person to survive a cable car crash in Italy in May was taken by his grandfather to Israel, against the wishes of other members of his family in the midst of a bitter guard battle.

Eitan Biran, whose parents and two-year-old brother died in the Stresa-Mottarone aerial tram crash on May 23, has been at the center of a custody battle for his relatives in Italy and Israel.

Eitan, whose parents were Israeli nationals residing in Italy, lived with his paternal aunt Aya Biran-Nirko in Pavia before his alleged kidnapping on Saturday. Biran-Nirko was granted custody of the child after his release from Turin hospital in June. Gali Peleg, Eitan’s maternal aunt in Tel Aviv, began adoption proceedings last month, her lawyer claiming the child was being held hostage.

She told Israeli radio 103FM on Sunday: “We haven’t kidnapped Eitan and we won’t use that word. We took Eitan home. We had to do this after receiving no information about his health or mental condition. If the judge had not scheduled a meeting [with the child], we would not have seen it.

Eitan’s maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, left Tel Aviv for Italy after the crash. According to reports in the Italian press, Peleg took the child out on Saturday morning but did not bring him home at 6.30 p.m. as agreed. After the alarm was raised, Italian police discovered that Eitan had left Italy on a private plane with Peleg, who was in possession of the child’s Israeli passport. Diplomatic sources later confirmed their arrival in Israel.

Italian media reported that Biran-Nirko repeatedly sent messages to Peleg, who eventually replied: “Eitan has gone home.

Armando Simbari, a lawyer representing Biran-Nirko, told Corriere della Sera: “The news is shocking for everyone and causes a lot of concern. He [Eitan] was torn from the family he grew up with and the doctors still dealing with his trauma.

Eitan’s great-grandparents also died in the crash, which reportedly occurred when a lead cable snapped, causing the cabin to roll backwards before falling about 20 meters into a wooded area below . The cabin was a few meters from Monte Mottarone, its destination almost 1,500 meters above sea level, when the accident occurred. Fifteen people had boarded the cable car to Stresa, the town below, next to Lake Maggiore, for the 20-minute journey. Eight of the 14 people who died, including a six-year-old boy, were of Italian nationality. The other victim was an Iranian national residing in Rome.

Investigators are still trying to establish the cause of the accident. The cabin “black box” was recently removed from the crash site. It is expected that it will take three months to assess whether the information in the software will indicate anomalies in the cable car system. Fourteen people from the company that built and maintained the cable car system and the company that operated it are under investigation.

Prosecutors claimed days after the crash that the emergency brakes, which should have kept the cab from falling back when the lead wire broke, had been turned off to avoid disruption to service.

The Stresa-Mottarone service resumed in late April as Italy eased coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Investigators said at the end of May that technical checks had been carried out, including one on May 3 to “remedy inefficiencies”, but had not been “decisive” in solving the problems.

In June, Italian public broadcaster Rai came under fire for broadcasting CCTV footage of the crash, which was Italy’s worst cable car disaster in 20 years.

Twenty people died in February 1998 when an American military plane flying too low cut a cable supporting a cabin near the Dolomites ski resort of Cavalese. In 1976, 41 people died in an accident affecting the same cable car system.

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