A DOCTOR sent a last message to her sister to say she was boarding a cable car in northern Italy – an hour before it plunged 20 metres to the ground, killing 14.
Roberta Pistolato, a doctor working on the frontline of Italy's battle against Covid, died in the tragedy as she celebrated her 40th birthday with her boyfriend Angelo Gasparro, 45.
Shortly before the horror, believed to have happened when a cable snapped near the summit of a 4,900ft mountain in Mottarone, Ms Pistolato texted her sister: "We're getting on the cable car."
Among the dead were five members of a family originally from Israel.
Amit Biran, 30, and his 26-year-old wife Tal Peleg-Biran died along with their son Tom Biran, who lived in northern Italy, and her grandparents Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen of Tel Aviv, who were aged 71 and 81.
The couple's other son, five-year-old Eitan, survived the accident and is being treated in hospital in Turin.
Dr Biran was working at a clinic in Pavia after studying medicine in the city and his psychology graduate wife looked after their sons.
Amit’s sister and her husband Nirko, who also live in the Pavia area, told the Corriere della Serra: “We heard the news, and we immediately started to read what had happened.
“We knew that Amit and his family had gone there, but we didn't think we would see their names among the victims of this tragedy.
“We are shocked and pray that little Eitan can survive and come back to us.”
The paper says that neighbours describe them as a “wonderful family, with a life ahead”.
Amit Biran’s sister, Aya Biran, said Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen had decided to visit the family to get away from the security situation in Israel during hostilities with Hamas, the Times of Israel reports.
“Yitzhak and Barbara wanted to see the great-grandchildren. Rockets were falling in Israel; they thought, ‘What can happen in Italy?'” she said.
Vittorio Zorloni, 55, and his 37-year-old partner Elisabetta Personini were killed along with and their five-year-old son Mattia.
The couple, who were due to get married next month, were killed instantly when the car hit the ground and their son died in hospital in Turin.
The accident also claimed the lives of Serena Cosetino, 27, a scientific researcher, and her 30-year-old boyfriend Mohammed Reza Shahisavandi, an Iranian student, who also worked in a bar in Rome.
Engaged couple Silvia Malnati 27, and Alessandro Merlo, 29, were also killed.
A nine-year-old boy died after being airlifted to a hospital in Turin.
The exact cause of the incident remains unclear, but local reports suggest the cable may have failed about 984ft from the top of the mountain.
Walter Milan, an alpine rescue spokesman, told television network RaiNews24 that the cable car was left "crumpled" by the impact.
The area's mayor Marcella Severino says it's believed the disaster was caused by a snapped cable, although the cause is under investigation.
Ms Pistolato and Mr Gasparro, who lived in Castel San Giovanni, had taken a trip to the mountain to celebrate her birthday, la Repubblica reports.
Mr Merlo and Ms Malnati were from the northern city of Varese, where neighbours told of their devastation.
One said Ms Malnati was "always cheerful".
Ms Severino said hikers heard a bang as the car shot backwards and toppled to the ground.
'WE ARE DEVASTATED'
"Some were killed inside, while others were thrown from the car. It appears the cable gave way, and walkers saw it happen," she said.
"They heard a loud bang and saw the cable car just before the summit and then it accelerated backwards, struck a support pillar and fell.
"Where it hit the ground is a remote spot, it's on the edge of some woods, and the witnesses said it rolled three times before stopping against some trees."
The mayor added: "We are devastated, in pain.
"It's a terrible moment for me and for our community and I think also for the whole of Italy."
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said: "I have heard with deep sadness about the tragic accident on the Stresa Mottarone cable car.
"I express the sympathy of all the government to the families of the victims, with particular thought to the children involved who have been left seriously hurt, and their families as well."
A witness told MailOnline: "It was a very steep drop, so the cable car tumbled for a while before stopping against some trees.
"The police are at the scene of the incident and are trying to identify the people. It is a devastating morning for all of us."
The cable line closed in 2014 for a €4.4 million renovation, opening against in 2016.
However, it then shut as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, which forced the closures of ski lifts across Italy. It reopened again less than a month ago, on April 24.
The service first began running in August 1970 and the journey takes 20 minutes.
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