Memorial held for victims of cable car disaster

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The Independent Online

National leaders, rescue workers and ordinary Austrians packed Salzburg's cathedral today to mourn for the 155 skiers and snowboarders who died when a cable car caught fire inside an Alpine mountain tunnel.

National leaders, rescue workers and ordinary Austrians packed Salzburg's cathedral today to mourn for the 155 skiers and snowboarders who died when a cable car caught fire inside an Alpine mountain tunnel.

The solemn Mass was celebrated in the provincial capital's 17th century, early Baroque church beside a cross decorated by 155 red roses. Music by Brahms and Mendelssohn underlined the anguished mood.

The Mass began at the exact hour that despairing rescue workers emerged from the tunnel Kitzsteinhorn mountain six days ago to relay the news that there was no longer any hope for the passengers trapped by the inferno.

"It's as if someone wanted to make us conscious that in the midst of joy, warmth, relaxation, and spending time together, there is the always the possibility for the opposite extreme," said Salzburg's Governor Franz Schausberger. "We know even more clearly since last weekend how small we are as human beings, and how wrong it is to trust completely in technology."

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the car on the funicular railway to catch fire. Police are analysing a lubricant - believed to be hydraulic fluid - found on the railway leading to the tunnel to see if might have played a role in the blaze.

The disaster was the worst accident ever to hit the multimillion dollar Austrian skiing industry.

Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined rescue workers, who attended the service in red and gold uniforms that stood out boldly across pews of mourners dressed in black.

Among those believed killed were 92 Austrians, 37 Germans, 10 Japanese, four Slovenes, two Dutch, one Briton and one Czech.

Klestil addressed the mothers, fathers, wives and children of the victims, acknowledging that their anguish was deep.

"No other accident in Austria has unleashed such an outpouring of nationwide sadness, grief and willingness to help," he said. "Following the disaster on Kitzsteinhorn, our country and its authorities must make it their immediate task to do everything they can to prevent a similar situation from ever happening in the future."

The ceremony was broadcast live on Austrian national television. During the Mass' communion service, state television scrolled the names of the dead, many of whom were children and teen-agers.

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