Cavalese cable car disaster (1998)

The Cavalese cable car disaster of 1998, also called the Strage del Cermis ("Massacre at Cermis") occurred on 3 February 1998, near the Italian town of Cavalese, a ski resort in the Dolomites some 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Trento. Twenty people died when a United States Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircraft, while flying too low, against regulations, in order for the pilots to "have fun" and "take videos of the scenery", cut a cable supporting a gondola of an aerial tramway.[1] Joseph Schweitzer, one of the two American pilots, confessed in 2012 that he had burned the tape containing incriminating evidence upon returning to the American base.[2] The pilot, Captain Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Captain Joseph Schweitzer, were put on trial in the United States and were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. Later they were found guilty of obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman for having destroyed a videotape recorded from the plane and were dismissed from the Marine Corps.[3] The disaster, and the subsequent acquittal of the pilots, strained relations between the United States and Italy.[4]

Cavalese cable car disaster
Trento mappa
Trentino (Cavalese is located
about 40 km NE of the city of Trento).
DateFebruary 3, 1998
Time15:13 local time
Locationnear Cavalese, Italy
20 dead (1 cable car operator, 19 passengers)

Details of the disaster

EA-6B Prowlers from VAQ-139
Two U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowlers in May 2004.

On 3 February 1998, an EA-6B Prowler, BuNo (bureau number) 163045, 'CY-02', callsign Easy 01, an electronic warfare aircraft belonging to Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2) of the United States Marine Corps, was on a low altitude training mission. At 15:13 local time it struck the cables supporting the aerial tramway-style cable car from Cavalese. The aircraft was flying at a speed of 540 miles per hour (870 km/h) and at an altitude of between 260 and 330 feet (80 and 100 m) in a narrow valley between the mountains. When reaching approximately 46°17′01″N 11°28′02″E / 46.283733°N 11.467237°ECoordinates: 46°17′01″N 11°28′02″E / 46.283733°N 11.467237°E, the aircraft's right wing struck the cables from underneath. The cable was severed causing the cabin from Cermis with 20 passengers on board to plunge over 80 metres (260 ft) killing them all. The plane had wing and tail damage but was able to return to its base, Aviano Air Base.[5][6]


Those killed, 19 passengers and one operator, were all Europeans: eight Germans, five Belgians, three Italians, two Poles, one Austrian, and one Dutch.[7]

Nationality Deaths
 Germany 8
 Belgium 5
 Italy 3
 Poland 2
 Austria 1
 Netherlands 1
Total 20


President Bill Clinton offered an official apology[8] and promised monetary compensation. The then-United States Ambassador to Italy, Thomas M. Foglietta, visited the crash site and knelt in prayer, offering apologies on behalf of the United States.

In Italy, where the event received the name of Strage del Cermis (Italian: "The massacre of Cermis"), the low-level flight was strongly criticized and some politicians called for a re-evaluation of rules or a complete ban of such exercises.[6]

First trial

Italian prosecutors wanted the four Marines to stand trial in Italy, but an Italian court recognized that North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) treaties gave jurisdiction to U.S. military courts.

Initially, all four men on the plane were charged, but only the pilot, Captain Richard J. Ashby, and his navigator, Captain Joseph Schweitzer, actually faced trial, charged with 20 counts of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. Ashby's trial took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It was determined that the maps on board did not show the cables and that the EA-6B was flying somewhat faster and considerably lower than allowed by military regulations. The restrictions in effect at the time required a minimum flying height of 2,000 feet (610 m); the pilot said he thought they were at 1,000 feet (305 m). The cable was cut at a height of 360 feet (110 m). The pilot further claimed that the height-measuring equipment on his plane had been malfunctioning, and that he had been unaware of the speed restrictions. In March 1999, the jury acquitted Ashby, outraging the European public.[8] The manslaughter charges against Schweitzer were then dropped.

Second trial and re-examination

The two men were court-martialed a second time for obstruction of justice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, because they had destroyed a videotape[9] recorded from the plane on the day of the crash. The existence and destruction of this videotape only came to the attention of military investigators in August 1998, once Capt Chandler P. Seagraves received testimonial immunity and elected to disclose "the truth about everything."[10] They were found guilty in May 1999; both were dismissed from the service and the pilot received a six-month prison term. He was released after four and a half months for good behavior. Schweitzer made a plea agreement that came to full light after the military jury deliberated upon sentencing. His agreement prevented him from serving any prison time, but it did not prevent him from receiving a dismissal.[11]

In their appeal, Ashby and Schweitzer asked for a re-examination of their trial and for clemency, challenging their dismissals in order to be eligible for military benefits. They claimed that during the first trial the prosecutor and the defense secretly agreed to drop the involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide charges, but to keep the obstruction of justice charge, in order to satisfy the requests coming from Italy. The appeal of Schweitzer was denied in November 2007.[12]

Decisions from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces were made available in August 2009.[13][14]

U.S. official report

In a formal investigation report redacted on 10 March 1998 and signed by Lieutenant General Peter Pace, the U.S. Marine Corps agreed with the results of the Italian officers. The investigation was led by General Michael DeLong, along with Italian Colonels Orfeo Durigon and Fermo Missarino.[15] The document was kept secret until the Italian newspaper La Stampa legally obtained a copy from the United States archives and published it on 13 July 2011.[16]

The Marine aircrew was determined to be flying too low and too fast, putting themselves and others at risk. The investigation team suggested that disciplinary measures against the flight crew and commanding officers should be taken, that the United States had to bear the full blame for what happened, and that victims' relatives were entitled to receive a monetary settlement.[17]

The commission found that the squadron was deployed at Aviano on 27 August 1997, before the publishing of new directives by the Italian government forbidding flight below 2,000 feet (610 m) in Trentino Alto Adige. All the squadron's pilots received a copy of the directive. The letter was later found, unopened, in the cockpit of the EA-6B along with maps marking the cable car ropes.[16] Directives were irrelevant here, since diving below cables was prohibited at all times anyway.

In the report, the pilots are said to be usually well-behaved and sane, without any previous case of drug abuse or psychological stress. Nevertheless, on 24 January, they had received a formal warning for flying too low after a training take-off.

On 2 February Schweitzer planned the flight route for a low altitude training mission using obsolete documents. It was proved that the squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Muegge, and his assistants, Captains Roys, Recce, Watton, and Caramanian, did not alert the navigator about the new flight altitude limitations, maybe because the proposed flight had a lower ceiling of 1,000 feet (300 m), enough to be safe with any cable in the area. The report included an interview with the commander of 31st Fighter Wing, who stated that Muegge confessed to him that he and his crew except Ashby were aware of the current flight limitations. After approving the report, Pace suggested disciplinary measures be taken against the commanders, too.

On the morning of the disaster, the plane underwent maintenance due to a fault in the "G meter", which measures g-forces, and was replaced. The radar altimeter was checked and reported in normal condition. After the disaster, Ashby reported the radar altimeter did not alert, but this is disputed and highly unlikely. At the time of the disaster, the radar altimeter alert was set at 800 feet (240 m), but the plane was flying at less than 400 feet (120 m).[16]

Ashby was qualified for low-altitude flights and prohibited diving below cables at all times. His last training mission of that kind was flown over six months before, on 3 July. The report includes flight tracing from a nearby AWACS airplane. The document reports a camcorder aboard the flight, but it was blank after Schweitzer had taken the original cassette and burned it afterwards.[18]


By February 1999 the victims' families had received USD $65,000 per victim as immediate help by the Italian government, which was reimbursed by the U.S. government.[19] In May 1999, the U.S. Congress rejected a bill that would have set up a $40 million compensation fund for the victims.[20] In December 1999, the Italian legislature approved a monetary compensation plan for the families ($1.9 million per victim). NATO treaties obligated the U.S. government to pay 75% of this compensation, which it did.[21]

See also

On 9 March 1976, 43 people, including 15 children, were killed on the same cable car system as in the 1998 incident. The supporting cable snapped, causing the worst cable car disaster ever. One passenger survived.[6]


  1. ^ "Slaughter of the innocents". The Independent. 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Scaliati, Giuseppe (2006). Dove va la Lega Nord: radici ed evoluzione politica di un movimento populista. Zero in condotta. p. 67. OCLC 66373351.
  5. ^ John Tagliabue with Matthew L. Wald, "Death in the Alps: a special report.; How Wayward U.S. Pilot Killed 20 on Ski Lift", The New York Times, 18 February 1998.
  6. ^ a b c Italian outrage over cable car tragedy, BBC news, Wednesday, 4 February 1998.
  7. ^ Le Vittime Archived 2007-10-07 at the Wayback Machine (list of the names of the victims) by the Comitato 3 Febbraio per la giustizia (3 February Committee for Justice), from (in Italian)
  8. ^ a b Mary Dejevsky (5 March 1999). "Cable car pilot not guilty of killings". The Independent.
  9. ^ Rizzo, Alessandra (February 8, 1998). "Italian Government Calls American Pilots Criminal". Rome, Italy: ABCNews.
  10. ^ Judgement of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, 27 June 2007
  11. ^ Jury Sentences Marine in Ski-Lift Incident to Dismissal New York Times, 3 April 1999
  12. ^ Andrea Visconti, "Cermis, patto segreto dietro il processo", la, 2 February 2008. (in Italian)
  13. ^ "United States v. Ashby, 08-0770/MC (C.A.A.F. 2009)", Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 31 August 2009.
  14. ^ "United States v. Schweitzer, 08-0746/MC (C.A.A.F. 2009)", Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, 31 August 2009.
  15. ^ "Investigators Blame Marines for Cable Car Accident". American Forces Press Service. 16 Mar 1998. Archived from the original on 2012-07-14.
  16. ^ a b c Maurizio Molinari and Paolo Mastrolilli (13 July 2011). ""È colpa nostra, dobbiamo pagare" ["It is our own fault, we have to pay"]" (in Italian). La Stampa. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  17. ^ "Il rapporto finale sul Cermis [The final report on the Cermis]" (in Italian). Il Post (Italian Post). 13 July 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
  18. ^ "Seconds From Disaster", National Geographic documentary S04 E05, 2011 (Schweitzer interview).
  19. ^ "America's Obligation in Italy", The New York Times, 10 March 1999
  20. ^ "US Congress decision not acceptable for Cavalese victims' lawyer", Agence France Presse, 17 May 1999
  21. ^ "Families of victims in Italian ski-lift disaster compensated", Agence France Presse, 26 April 2000
1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident

The 1990 Tbilisi aerial tramway accident was an aerial tramway accident in Tbilisi, the capital of Soviet Georgia on June 1, 1990, which resulted in 20 deaths and at least 15 injuries.

The accident involved 2 gondolas on a ropeway route between Rustaveli Avenue and Mount Mtatsminda. Red gondola number 1 was on its way down from the slope of the mountain, nearing the lower supporting tower, and red gondola number 2 was nearing an upper tower, when the hauling rope broke inside the coupler of the upper gondola. Both gondolas rolled down simultaneously. The lower gondola slammed into the wall of the lower station, killing 4 and injuring many others. The upper gondola generated a higher speed (the length of ropeway was 863.3 metres (2,832 ft)); on reaching the lower support tower, it struck the broken hauling rope, which was hanging on the tower, causing the cable to tear the gondola apart. The collision was so strong that the track cable fell off the tower, dangling the cut open gondola above the rooftops. This also caused the cabin to slide further down, striking the roof of a six-story building below. This caused even further destruction to the gondola and caused people to fall 20 meters onto the rooftops and ground below. 20 people were killed and at least 15 badly injured. Most were children on a sightseeing tour to Tbilisi from School Number 5 of the regional town of Akhaltsikhe, to celebrate Children's Day. Surviving witnesses from both gondolas say that the brakes did not work in either of the gondolas, despite the desperate attempts of guides and passengers who helped them to pull the brakes.

In 1988, 2 years prior to accident, the cable car underwent major reconstruction under the lead of Head Engineer Vakhtang Lejava. Originally the cable car used 3 supporting towers. Redesigning this meant replacing the 20 metre high lower mast with a new 25 metre high mast. Two short upper masts (10 and 12 meters high) were also replaced by one 20 metre high mast. Prior to this change, the gondolas had a slight climbing angle on the two upper masts. Using a single higher mast caused the new gondolas to run from the upper station horizontal to the mast and then, with a sharp angle, head down. The standard oval Georgian gondolas (with a capacity of 25 per gondola), produced in Tbilisi by Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing, were replaced by Italian larger rectangular ones built by "Lovisolo" and provided by "Ceretti & Tanfani", providing greater passenger capacity (40 per gondola). The braking system of the new gondolas did not function properly – while climbing over the upper mast, the braking system would incorrectly engage. The service staff would have to climb on top of the gondola and turn it off manually when this occurred. To avoid this inconvenience, the brakes were just turned off. Additionally, on the day of the accident, both gondolas were over-capacity: the lower gondola had 46 passengers on board, the upper gondola held 47 passengers.

Accident investigation documentation does not identify the cause of the hauling rope breaking inside the coupler. Many unanswered questions still remain and the cause of the accident is not known.

The track and hauling cables were dismantled while the damaged gondolas were dismantled after 3 years. The masts and the stations were kept intact. The aerial tramway was never restored. In 2014, the upper station and both supporting masts were dismantled due to planned restoration of the tramway as a reversible gondola cable car, running from a relocated lower station. However, the upper station location remained the same. The old lower station, due to its unique architecture, is a cultural heritage object. The planned restoration was abandoned due to local opposition and visual flaws of the new lower station on one of the main squares of the city in front of Radisson Hotel. Another issue with the restoration was the oversized five supporting masts, two of them being located on hilly streets, causing already narrow streets to reduce even more in width.

As of January 2017, an aerial tramway is under construction from the original lower station, with the location of the upper station remaining the same. The work will be carried out by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group. The major challenge is to adapt the lower station backyard for a monocable detachable gondola infrastructure, because the lower station was only designed for aerial tramway type of cable car in 1958. Construction has faced problems because of the high density small housing which appeared in the backyard of the lower station throughout the years and the area near the future lower mast being challenging for big lorries with construction materials to approach.

Aerial tramway

An aerial tramway, sky tram, cable car, ropeway or aerial tram is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion. With this form of lift, the grip of an aerial tramway cabin is fixed onto the propulsion rope and cannot be decoupled from it during operations.

In comparison to gondola lifts, aerial tramways provide lower line capacities, higher wait times and are unable to turn corners.

Aviano Air Base

Aviano Air Base (IATA: AVB, ICAO: LIPA) (Italian: Base aerea di Aviano) is a NATO base in northeastern Italy, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It is located in the Aviano municipality, at the foot of the Carnic Pre-Alps, or Southern Carnic Alps, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Pordenone.

The Italian Air Force has ownership; it has also administrative, and military control of the base. It hosts the U.S. Air Force's 31st Fighter Wing.

The 31st FW is the only U.S. fighter wing south of the Alps. This strategic location makes the wing critical to operations in NATO's southern region. The 31st FW maintains two F-16 fighter squadrons, the 555th Fighter Squadron and the 510th FS, allowing the wing to conduct offense and defensive combat air operations.

Cavalese cable car disaster

Cavalese cable car disaster may refer to:

Cavalese cable car disaster (1976)

Cavalese cable car disaster (1998)

List of Seconds From Disaster episodes

National Geographic Channel has broadcast many episodes under multiple titles. The title currently or most recently listed on the NGC Calendar is shown first. Alternate titles are shown in parentheses.

List of aircraft by tail number

This list is only of aircraft that have an article, indexed by aircraft registration "tail number" (civil registration or military serial number). The list includes aircraft that are notable either as an individual aircraft or have been involved in a notable accident or incident or are linked to a person notable enough to have a stand-alone Wikipedia article.

Singapore Cable Car disaster

The Singapore cable car disaster was a fatal accident on the Singapore Cable Car system that occurred at about 6 p.m. on 29 January 1983, when the derrick of the Eniwetok, a Panamanian-registered oil rig, passed under the aerial ropeway and struck the cable that stretched over the waterway between the Jardine Steps Station and the Sentosa Station. As a result, two cabins plunged 55 metres (180 ft) into the sea, killing seven people. The oil rig was being towed away from Keppel Wharf when it became entangled in the cable and caused it to snap. It also left thirteen people trapped in four other cabins between Mount Faber and Sentosa. The disaster was the first involving death or injury since the cable car system opened in February 1974.

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