At least 13 people died and three were seriously injured on Sunday when a cable car linking Italy's Lake Maggiore with a nearby mountain in the Alps plunged 20 metres to the ground, local officials and rescuers said.
The Stresa-Mottarone cable car takes tourists and locals from the town on Lake Maggiore, almost 1,400 metres above sea level to the top of the Mottarone mountain in 20 minutes.
"We are devastated, in pain," Marcella Severino, Stresa's mayor told national broadcaster RAI, while Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi voiced his condolences to the families of the victims, "with a special thought" for the injured children.
The accident happened as the cable car was travelling up the mountain, with the cabin dropping some 20 metres and rolling several times down the steep slopes before it was stopped by trees, Severino said.
People hiking on the mountain heard a loud hiss just before the crash, she said, adding that it was believed to have been caused by one of the cables breaking.
A call came just after midday (1000 GMT), Italy's alpine rescue service said, adding that the cable car was "crumpled" in the woods and two children had been taken by helicopter to a paediatric hospital in the nearby city of Turin.
Severino told SKY television that some of the victims had been found trapped inside the car, with others thrown out into the woods. Another injured person, an adult, had been also been taken to hospital by helicopter, she added.
Coroners had started identifying the victims, who included foreign nationals, she said, without giving further details.
Luca Cari, a fire brigade spokesman, said it was still not clear how many people were in the cable car.
"Our teams are still pulling bodies out," Cari added.
'Hard to believe'
The Stresa-Mottarone lift had only recently re-opened following the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
The Mottarone peak is popular among tourists because of its panoramic views on Lake Maggiore and its picturesque islands as well as the vista of the surrounding Alps.
The cable car service first opened in August 1970 after almost three years of works to replace a cog railway, its website said.
The dual cable system is split into two sections, just over two kilometres between Stresa and Alpino and another three kilometres between Alpino and Mottarone. It consist of two cars - in alternate directions - with each one carrying up to 40 passengers, it added.
Severino said that important maintenance works, including changing the cables, had been carried out in recent years.
"All of this is hard to believe," she said.