On This Day

Kitzsteinhorn mountain, Kitzsteinhorn cable car
HANDOUT/Police/AP
Recovery works of the burnt out cable car in a tunnel in Kitzsteinhorn mountain skiing resort near Kaprun, Austria.

On This Day: Cable Car Blaze Kills 155 Passengers in Kitzsteinhorn Mountain, Austria

November 11, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 11, 2000, a cable car in Austria’s Kitzsteinhorn tunnel caught fire, killing 155 of the 167 people on board.

155 Die in Kaprun Disaster

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When it was built in 1974, the Kitzsteinhorn cable car system was the world’s first underground mountain railway. The tunnel portion of the popular Kitzsteinhorn mountain ski area, located in Kaprun, a small town near Salzburg, was about two and a half miles long, with the capacity to carry 1,500 people from the valley to the mountain summit in about an hour.

On the morning of Nov. 11, 2000, a cable car was carrying 166 skiers and snowboarders, including many children and young adults, and an employee when it abruptly caught fire. The funicular railway cable car was entirely incinerated, burning some of the passengers to death.

Most passengers were able to escape through the car’s windows and attempted to flee via a stairway leading out of the tunnel, but died of smoke inhalation. In the end, only 12 people survived.
At the time of the accident, the cause of the fire was unknown and especially puzzling to authorities: the car did not have an engine or other onboard power source and was considered to be fireproof.

On Nov. 17, at the official memorial service for the victims of the fire, Austrian President Thomas Klestil said, “No other accident in Austria has unleashed such an outpouring of nationwide sadness, grief and willingness to help. Following the disaster on Kitzsteinhorn, our country and its authorities must make it their immediate task to do everything they can to prevent a similar situation from ever happening in the future.”

Kitzsteinhorn Investigation and Trial

It took almost a year for a full investigation of the accident to be complete. In September 2001, Walter Grafinger, president of the Salzburg district court, indicated that a series of factors caused the accident. The investigation suggested that a “faulty radiator” in the driver’s cab was the primary cause. The report also specified that hydraulic oil from a cable had trickled into the heater where it ignited.

Relatives of the victims pursued legal action against the cable car operators. In 2004, after an 18-month trial, an Austrian judge acquitted 16 suspects and cleared all charges of criminal negligence, ruling there was “insufficient evidence.”
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