Pope mourns Italy cable car dead, prays for 'little Eitan'

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ROME – Pope Francis offered prayers Tuesday for “little Eitan,” the lone survivor of a cable car disaster in northern Italy that left 14 people dead when the lead cable snapped and the emergency brake failed to engage.

Francis sent a telegram to the local bishop offering his condolences to the families of the people who died when their cable car cabin plunged to the ground Sunday. They were “tragically lost while immersed in the marvels of creation,” the pope said.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, on Sunday. 

Prosecutors have said they are investigating why the lead cable of the Stresa funicular snapped while it was bringing sightseers up to the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore in Italy’s northern Piedmont region. They are also investigating why the emergency brake on the supporting cable didn’t engage.

The cabin reeled back down the line until it pulled off, crashed to the ground and rolled over down the mountainside until it came to rest against some trees.

Lead prosecutor Olimpia Bossi said Tuesday that she couldn’t rule out human error, amid suggestions that the brake may have been disabled by a clamp erroneously left in place, perhaps after maintenance work on the car the previous day. 

Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini visited the site Monday and announced a commission of inquiry to investigate the "technical and organizational causes" of the accident. 

Five-year-old Eitan Biran, an Israeli citizen living in Italy, was the lone survivor. Francis offered particular thoughts for the boy, whose parents, great-grand parents and little brother were killed. 

Eitan was hospitalized in Turin with several broken bones, and Francis said he was “following his case with trepidation.”

Officials at Turin’s Regina Margherita children’s hospital began waking Eitan up from sedation Tuesday after he underwent surgery and an MRI, which showed no brain damage. An aunt and other family members have been with him at the hospital.

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