Italian police were investigating last night how a 16-year-old British schoolgirl came to fall nearly 30ft on to a pavement and suffered multiple injuries after the window ledge where she was sitting after a late-night party collapsed without warning.
Doctors treating Su Cangatin-Ripley said she had avoided death because her fall, at around 1am on Saturday from the second floor of the Hotel Cristallo on the Venice Lido, was broken by the canvas awning of a bar directly beneath her window, causing her to bounce on to a footpath.
The teenager, a member of a party of 42 students and teachers from a private school in Battersea, south London, taking part in a choir tour, was in hospital last night with head, chest and renal injuries. Staff at the Dell'Angelo Hospital in Mestre, where she is being treated, said she had made good progress after initially being put on a ventilator, adding she was "very lucky to be alive".
As her parents maintained a vigil at her bedside, managers at the hotel said they had warned the pupils and their supervisors about the risks of sitting on the ledges the day before the accident.
Photographs showed the thick concrete sill, where witnesses said Ms Cangatin-Ripley had been smoking a cigarette while sitting with her legs dangling from the window, had sheared from its stone frame along almost its entire length. The Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the teenager, a keen athlete and euphonium player, had been talking with fellow pupils sitting in similar positions on the first and second floors of the hotel. Nicola Fullin, the manager of the Hotel Cristallo, a popular three-star hotel on the Lido beach resort, claimed that boys and girls from the £3,400-a-term Emanuel School had been misbehaving.
Mr Fullin said: "The last few nights the students were spotted sitting on the window ledge and some were smoking. We spoke to the teachers about it and warned them it was dangerous – we also heard that the students were climbing into other rooms via the windows."
The group of 37 students and five teachers were in Venice to perform five church concerts and had sung in the famous Chiesa di San Pietro di Castello prior to the fall.
Mr Fullin added: "I know there had been a party on a nearby beach earlier but I'm not sure if the girl had been drinking. She has been very lucky, she is alive thanks to the fact she hit the canopy first. It's a miracle that was even there – the bar owners usually close it at night."
The room in which Ms Cangatin-Ripley had been staying remained sealed yesterday as police continued their investigation. Mr Fullin insisted the damage to the ledge had been caused by firefighters called to the scene although police confirmed it had at least partly collapsed when the teenager fell.
A Venice police spokesman said: "We are just focusing on the fact that she has been seriously injured after the ledge gave way and have sealed off the room."
Onofrio La Manna, the director of the Dell'Angelo Hospital, said scans showed the teenager had bruising to her liver, lung and kidneys but her head and chest injuries appeared superficial. He said: "Doctors are very pleased with her progress. She can think herself very lucky to be alive."
No one from Emanuel College was available to comment.