170 people die after fire breaks out in Alpine cable railway

Click to follow
The Independent Online

About 170 people died today when a train transporting skiers to a glacier resort in Austria caught on fire trapping them inside, the governor of Salzburg province said. It was the worst known accident of its kind.

About 170 people died today when a train transporting skiers to a glacier resort in Austria caught on fire trapping them inside, the governor of Salzburg province said. It was the worst known accident of its kind.

Governor Franz Schausberger told reporters in Salzburg that only eight people could save themselves from the burning car, which was apparently full with 180 people. He declared a day of mourning for Salzburg province. Austria's president Thomas Klestil expressed condolences to relatives.

The train, pulled by cable underground for most of the more than 3,200 meters up the Kitzsteinhorn mountain to the ski slopes, was reported to be around 600 meters inside the mountain, in the heart of the Austrian Alps, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Vienna.

Rescuers were unable to reach the train compartment where fire broke out at about 9:30 a.m. (0730 GMT). State radio said survivors managed to push out a rear window of the burning compartment.

Among the dead were three people who were not in the train but in a passenger area within the tunnel, said Schausberger. They died of smoke inhalation.

The tragedy registered as the most serious of its kind, eclipsing death toll in the Italian ski resort of Cavalese in 1976 where 42 people died after a cable snapped.

An avalanche killed 11 people in March south of Salzburg, in the same general vicinity.

Norbert Karlsboeck, the mayor of Kaproun, the town near the accident, said that the fire continued burning more than three hours after it broke out, sending smoke spewing out from the bottom of the tunnel, which begins more than 600 meters above sea level.

The train enters the mountainside after being hoisted up a steep ramp, supported by metal struts.

State television said without attribution that the massive steel cable pulling the cars up the slope apparently broke before the fire broke out.

A massive rescue operation was mounted with some 13 helicopters, teams of police, doctors and Red Cross workers all at the site, the mayor said. Helicopters also were making their way from neighboring Bavaria, in southern Germany, carrying firefighters with special equipment.

"We do not know anything about the reason for the fire, only that it broke out on the train," Karlsboeck said.

The resort is a popular summer and early winter skiing area. Built in 1974, the cable railway was first the first of its kind to burrow through a mountainside. Experts interviewed on television said it was supposed to be fireproof.

Police were calling on motorists to keep away from the area so as not to hinder rescue attempts.

Comments