Kaprun Funicular Accident Worst in History


Kaprun, Austria, Nov. 15, 2000--The final death toll is 155 people in what can be pronounced history's worst cable car accident. The tragedy occurred Monday, when the Kitzsteinhorn-bound funicular burst into flames in a tunnel, trapping nearly all of its passengers.

Authorities have yet to discover the cause of the explosion. Tuesday, investigators found an oily substance on a mountain railway in Austria, offering the first potential clue. Forensic technicians refuse to give information about the substance other than it is being chemically analyzed and appears similar in consistency to a lubricant.

The intensity of the fire required the bodies to be identified with DNA samples, which forensic experts are now collecting. Medical and psychiatric personnel have been providing support for the rescue workers due to the macabre scene.

Among those killed were at least eight members of the German Ski Association and 29 other Germans, 92 Austrians, 10 Japanese, 8 Americans, 4 Slovenes, 2 Dutch, one person from the Czech Republic, and one person from Great Britain. Authorities had no nationalities for the four remaining victims. All but three of the victims were discovered inside the tunnel. They were unable to escape the inferno and toxic fumes of the exploding cable car. The other three were found at a station stop at the top of the tunnel.

Eighteen people survived the wreck, twelve who saved themselves from the cable car after they broke a window with a ski, and six who had been waiting at the top of the tunnel.

One national ski team scarcely avoided tragedy. The 17-member Macedonian group was fatigued from their 24-hour journey to Austria and decided to rest instead of taking the funicular to Kitzsteinhorn.

Other Austrian cable cars that resemble the one at Kitzsteinhorn have been halted for safety checks. Salvage workers and police continue to work steadily to identify victims and to discover the cause of the catastrophe.