AT LEAST 12 people have been killed after a cable car plunged to the ground in Italy today.
Two seriously injured children, both reportedly under 10, have been airlifted to hospital after the gondola fell near the mountain's 4,900ft summit.
A huge rescue mission is under way following the major incident in Mottarone, northern Italy.
It was initially believed 11 people were inside the gondola – which has capacity for 40 – when it fell.
However, mayor Marcella Severino, who was at the scene this afternoon, say at least 15 were actually inside.
She said: "Witnesses have told me they saw the cable car slide backwards very quickly towards the final supporting pillar and then it fell to the ground."
And rescuers have now tragically revised their death toll upwards.
This afternoon, they said nine had died. Now, the toll is believed to be at least 12.
It could rise further, they warned.
The two youngsters onboard have been taken by air ambulance to a special paediatric hospital in Turin.
The youngest child, a boy, suffered a serious head injury, trauma to his abdomen and breaks to his legs, but is still conscious, Sky Italia reported.
Images of the tragedy show the crushed and crumpled remains of the cable car in a clearing of a thick patch of pine trees.
Rescue efforts have been hampered by the woodland, as well as the steep slope.
A fire engine rushing to the scene of the horror overturned, although no one inside was injured.
Rescuer Walter Milan told Italy's SkyTG24 said the cable car collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region.
"The cable car fell from a relatively high point and it fell into wooded terrain," he said.
"From what I have seen and heard, it is completely destroyed, so the impact was very violent.
"It is a very serious accident."
As yet, the nationalities or ages of the casualties are not known.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said: "I have heard with deep sadness about the tragic accident on the Stresa Mottarone cable car.
"I express the sympathy of all the government to the families of the victims, with particular thought to the children involved who have been left seriously hurt, and their families as well."
A witness told MailOnline: "It was a very steep drop, so the cable car tumbled for a while before stopping against some trees.
"The police are at the scene of the incident and are trying to identify the people. It is a devastating morning for all of us."
The cable line closed in 2014 for a €4.4 million renovation, opening against in 2016.
However, it then shut as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, which forced the closures of ski lifts across Italy. It reopened again less than a month ago, on April 24.
The service first began running in August 1970 and the journey takes 20 minutes.
Mountain rescuers said this afternoon: "Serious accident on the Stresa- Mottarone cable car.
"Alpine rescue and other rescue teams on site. Two helicopter ambulances intervened."
Italian minister Enrico Giovannini said: "A terrible tragedy.
"We are trying to understand what has happened, but it is a truly terrible tragedy."
Mottarone reaches a height of 4,900 feet and overlooks a picturesque lake.
The mountain features a small amusement park, Alpyland, that has a children’s rollercoaster offering 360-degree views of the scenery.
Many Italian ski areas feature mountain bike paths and hiking trails that are popular in spring and summer.
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