Italian police on Wednesday arrested three managers from the operator of a cable car that crashed into a mountain killing 14 people, accusing them of deliberately disabling the emergency brake.
A five-year-old boy, the only survivor of Sunday's tragedy on the Mottarone mountain overlooking Lake Maggiore in northwest Italy, remains in serious condition in hospital.
The three suspects are accused of deliberately deactivating the brake that could have stopped the car flying backwards when the cable snapped, to avoid delays following a malfunction.
"It was a conscious choice, absolutely conscious. That's it," prosecutor Olimpia Bossi told reporters.
"It was not an occasional omission or forgetfulness. It was a conscious decision to disarm... to deactivate this emergency system in order to remedy what we have been told were problems, technical problems that were occurring on the line," she added.
Italian news agencies named the three suspects as Luigi Nerini -- the head of Ferrovie del Mottarone, the firm which manages the cable car -- and two other managers, Gabriele Tadini and Enrico Perocchio.
Although a maintenance team reportedly came to fix those problems on May 3, they remained unresolved, local Carabinieri police official Alberto Cicognani told Radiotre radio.
"To avoid further interruptions in the service, they chose to leave in 'the fork', which prevents the emergency brake from working," said Cicognani.
He claimed all three men admitted what had happened.
The apparatus known as the fork had been inserted "several times", said Bossi, suggesting the cable car had been unsafe for some time.
"Certainly Sunday was not the first day and this has been admitted," Bossi told journalists.
- Boy in 'delicate' situation -
Officials at the hospital in Turin treating the young survivor, whose parents, great-grandparents and two-year-old sibling were all killed in the crash, said Wednesday that he had reopened his eyes.
"His reawakening is continuing and a short while ago he was extubated," Citta della Salute hospital director Giovanni La Valle told reporters, but added that the situation remained "delicate".
He suffered injuries to his skull, chest and abdomen as well as various leg fractures, media reports said.
The bodies of his family members, all of them Israelis, were taken from the mortuary near the crash site Wednesday to be flown to Israel.
It was the first fatal incident involving a cable car in Italy since 1998, when a low-flying US military jet severed a cable at a ski resort, killing 20 people.
It came at the start of the country's much-anticipated reopening to tourists after coronavirus closures, although the cable car at Mottarone, which was built in 1970, had been operating since late April.
The incident drew condolences from around the world, including from Pope Francis, while the 19th stage of the Giro d'Italia was re-routed to avoid Mount Mottarone.
"No one could imagine that what was a Sunday outing could turn into a nightmare that ended tragically," Bossi told AFP on Tuesday.