Italian security officer may face charges over fatal tunnel fire

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The Independent Online

An Italian technician in charge of security at the Mont Blanc tunnel at the time of the 1999 fire that killed 30 people is being investigated for manslaughter.

An Italian technician in charge of security at the Mont Blanc tunnel at the time of the 1999 fire that killed 30 people is being investigated for manslaughter, French judicial sources said.

The technician was the seventh person placed under investigation – one step short of being charged – in connection with the inquiry into the March 24, 1999 fire in the tunnel connecting France and Italy and running under Europe's highest peak.

Neither the suspect's name nor role on the day of the fire was divulged by the sources, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

French Investigating Magistrate Franck Guesdon, working in Italy for the past two weeks, placed another Italian, Marcello Meyseillier, under investigation last week in connection with the blaze.

The judge is concerned about Meyseillier's decision to switch on the ventilation system inside the tunnel, a move that has been blamed for kindling the flames, the judicial sources said.

The blaze, which started in a truck, incinerated 33 vehicles inside the 7.4 mile tunnel and was extinguished only two days later.

Belgian truck driver Gilbert Degrave, whose cargo of flour and margarine caught fire inside the tunnel, is being investigated by the French judge for manslaughter.

Both French and Italian authorities have been criticised for an alleged lack of coordination in their efforts to rescue trapped travellers from the inferno.

A 1,000 page report, prepared by transportation experts for Guesdon and released in March, faulted tunnel operators for reacting too slowly to the disaster.

Repair work continues on the tunnel, which could open by September.

The tunnel is a vital road link, normally used by about 2,500 trucks each day.

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