How is it possible?
On 23 May 2021 the unthinkable happened: a cable from the Alpino-Mottarone cable car in picturesque Stresa near Lago Majore snapped.
The cabin carrying fifteen people crashed just before it reached the top of the mountainside, in the middle of the forest. Fourteen people were killed. At the time of writing this opinion piece, the owner, the operations manager and the technical engineer of the cabin operating company have been arrested, after it was discovered that the emergency brakes had been deliberately put out of action.
Maintenance was carried out correctly
The cable car, built in 1967, has been thoroughly renovated in recent years. From 2014 to 2016, for example, Leitner systematically replaced the load-bearing and traction cables until an incident occurred. The mechanical safety components were checked at the end of March and the hydraulic brakes of the cabins were also checked and serviced at the beginning of May.
No doubt you are familiar with the phenomenon: technical problems more often occur after a standstill. The cable car opened its doors again only a month earlier after a long period of downtime due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Apparently, there had been problems with the braking system for some time, which caused serious delays. In order to solve the problems, a lengthy intervention was required. This would have meant delays and a shut down that the company could do without just when tourists were starting to arrive again. The solution was simple: to 'bridge' the emergency brake by inserting clamps. According to the public prosecutor, this 'quick fix' had been used regularly in recent years. For a month, the cabin with the clamp in the emergency brake system climbed and descended, until that fatal Sunday...
The fateful decision to put the emergency brakes out of action was partly prompted by a blind faith in the integrity of the cables. All traction and carrier cables were checked in November 2020 via magneto-inductive control. And although the cabin was running at only half capacity due to the Corona measures, the cable still snapped. The future will tell whether or not something went wrong with the safety inspection. For now, we can only conclude that this failure also occurred after a longer period of downtime. To put it in the words of the actress and philanthropist Helen Hayes: “If you rest, you rust.”
Unfortunately, this disaster is not the first accident with cable cars caused by deliberately deactivating the emergency braking system. In 1990, twenty people died in a similar accident in Tbilisi. "The cable car operators must have learned their lesson by now”, I hear you rightly thinking. I hope however that in your company too, the management and technical department have understood the message. Bridging or deactivating a safety system is irresponsible and criminal. This also applies with failing to check whether such bad practices happen inconspicuously.
During my 16-year career with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, I learned and experienced that having the right spare parts available or not affects the availability of technical systems. Aircraft stood still at Volkel Air Base due to a shortage of spare parts, while those in Kleine-Brogel in Belgium (68 km south) were in stock. For so-called consumables, I exchanged parts monthly with my Belgian colleagues. As a result, we solved each other's shortages and improved the availability of spare parts and thus the deployability of the aircraft.
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