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Europe

Austrian Ski Train Disaster Trial Opens

Memories of Austria’s worst peacetime disaster are awakened as prosecutors begin trying 16 people for the ski train inferno in Caprun in 2000 that killed 155 people.

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A memorial service on November 11, 2001 to mark the first anniversary of the Kaprun accident.

An Austrian court has begun hearing charges against sixteen ski resort workers and inspectors charged with responsibility for a fire in a ski train that killed 155 people in November 2000.

The dead, who were mainly skiers setting out for a day on the slopes of the popular Alpine resort of Kaprun, included people from Germany, America, Austria and Japan.

A defective electric heater is said to have triggered the fire which quickly spread through the two-car funicular train bringing it to a stop in a steep, dark 3.2 kilometre tunnel leading to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.

Scores of people were unable to escape the train when the doors failed to open. Many bodies were charred beyond recognition in the intense blaze. Only 12 people survived.

Prosecutors said at the trial that negligence was the root cause of the disaster. They spoke of a "mosaic of errors", including the installation of a non-regulation electric heater, the lack of fire extinguishers or emergency hammers for smashing windows to escape.

The sixteen people on trial have all pleaded not guilty. They include employees of the funicular operator, Gletscherbahnen Kaprun AG, some of its suppliers and officials from the Austrian Ministry of Transport

Defence lawyers for the 16 accused said their clients had done their jobs properly and that no one could have foreseen the disaster.

The defendants face maximum prison terms of five years on charges of negligently causing a fire or negligently causing danger to the public.

Public interest in the case has been intense.

So much so that the case has been moved from Salzburg’s District Court to a larger building to accommodate crowds of relatives, lawyers and journalists. The proceedings are expected to last until at least the end of September.