Survivors say explosions preceded cable car fire

Associated Press

KAPRUN, Austria — Details about what happened in an Alpine mountain tunnel where more than 150 people died began to emerge Tuesday, with survivors and others describing explosions, sparks and knocking "like that of a hammer on a pipe."

Investigators of Saturday’s cable car fire in the Austrian Alps did not comment on possible causes of the tragedy, which trapped the burning car full of skiers and snowboarders inside a tunnel in Kitzsteinhorn mountain. But they did say they had found an oily substance that appeared to have dripped from the car.

Christian Tisch, a police forensic technician, said the material was being chemically analyzed and that it appeared to be similar in consistency to lubricants.

"The material looks as though it may have dropped from the vehicle," Tisch said. He said only that before the train entered the tunnel "defects may have occurred."

Officials leading the recovery effort of victims’ bodies from the tunnel on Tuesday revised the death count from the 170 they had originally thought to 156.

Officials said they expected to retrieve all of the remains by toWday. They had recovered the remains of 128 people so far.

A group of survivors, members of a skiing club in the southern German town of Vilseck, said in a statement Tuesday that they heard two "loud explosions, one immediately after the other," shortly after flames enveloped the car and they clambered out through a broken window and started running downhill, toward the entry point into the tunnel.

Almost immediately afterward, one of the two steel cables used to pull the car upward broke and shot by them "throwing off sparks," the statement said.

"Each one in the group was in panic, fearing that the burning train could get loose and crash down the flight path," they said.

Among those who escaped was German Thorsten Graeber, who was being lauded as a hero for helping smash one of the car’s windows with a ski pole and his hands, then helping lead others to safety at the bottom of the tunnel.

But being a survivor when 20 other members of his ski club died weighed heavily on Graeber, a 36-year-old investment banker.

"I don’t want to run the whole film through my mind anymore," he told the Austrian newspaper Kurier in Tuesday’s editions. "It was horrific. We tried everything."

In separate comments, Austrian Regina Rammer told state television the cable car she took — which was apparently right in front of the one that burst into flame — stopped briefly and without explanation once inside the tunnel. She then heard knocking "like that of a hammer on a pipe."

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