That a single person survived when a cable car crashed in northern Italy was a miracle.
Eitan Biran, five years old at the time of the accident, is believed to have been saved by a protective hug from his father, Amit, when the cable car fell to the ground.
The tragedy has been one of the most heartbreaking stories in Italy so far this year.
Fifteen people were inside the cabin when it left the town of Stresa, next to Lake Maggiore, for the 20-minute journey to the top of Monte Mottarone on May 23.
It was the first sunny weekend since Italy began easing coronavirus restrictions in late April, including opening to travelers from Israel.
Just seconds before the cabin reached Monte Mottarone, popular with families for the Alpyland amusement park, a lead cable snapped, causing it to plummet backward before plummeting 20 meters into a wooded area below.
All but two of the passengers, including Eitan’s parents, two-year-old brother Tom, and great-grandparents, who had been visiting from Israel, were killed in the impact. The bodies of some of the victims were found trapped in the crumpled cabin; others had been thrown into the forest.
Eitan was taken by air ambulance to a Turin hospital with injuries to his head and legs. Agitated and calling for his mother, the doctors had to sedate him. Mattia Zorloni, who was the same age as Eitan at the time of the accident, was also airlifted from the crash site and taken to the same hospital, but died shortly thereafter from his injuries.
The next day, as the people of Stresa absorbed the shock of the tragedy, they kept returning to Eitan – “the little boy saved by his father’s arms” – wondering what kind of life he would have now.
The accident not only killed Eitan’s parents, brother and great-grandparents, but also tore apart the rest of his family amid a fierce custody battle, which last week led to the boy being allegedly abducted by his grandfather. maternal and brought to Israel.
Eitan was born in Israel but has lived in Pavia, a city in the Lombardy region, since he was 18 months old. His father was a doctor and his mother, Tal Peleg-Biran, graduated in psychology.
In the days after the accident, a Turin court awarded temporary custody to Eitan’s paternal aunt, Aya Biran-Nirko, also a doctor living in Pavia. The swift custody decision was necessary so that Eitan, who has an Italian and Israeli passport, could continue to receive the necessary medical care. But the move was contested by relatives by his mother in Israel, and when Eitan moved into his aunt’s home, where he had been living since being discharged from the hospital in June, tensions between the two sides of the family escalated.
In August, it was announced in a press conference in israel that Eitan’s maternal aunt, Gali Peleg, had initiated the procedures for his adoption. His lawyer, Ronen Dlayahu, accused relatives in Italy of holding Eitan as a “hostage”. He stated: “Eitan was abducted by a family who did not know him, who had not been close to him in any way before.”
Eitan’s grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, who this week was subjected to five days of house arrest in Tel Aviv as part of an investigation into the alleged kidnapping, is reported to have moved to Italy after the tragedy. Visitation rights were granted to Eitan, who in recent months had been in treatment for his physical injuries and mental trauma caused by the accident.
Peleg was also in possession of Eitan’s Israeli passport and refused to give it up, despite being given an August 30 deadline by a judge for fear that Eitan would be taken out of Italy.
Despite Peleg’s failure to meet the deadline, there was no revocation of her visitation rights.
On the morning of September 11, Peleg picked up Eitan and told him that she would take him to lunch and buy toys. Leaving the house with his walker, Eitan cheerfully said goodbye and promised to buy toys for his cousins as well.
They did not take him home first thing in the evening as had been agreed. Instead, he was reportedly taken across the border to Lugano in Switzerland before being flown by private plane to Tel Aviv. Gali Peleg denied that Eitan was kidnapped. “We will not use that word,” he told Israeli media. “What happened is that we brought Eitan home.”
Biran-Nirko, who has petitioned a Tel Aviv court for Eitan to return to Italy and is preparing to travel to Israel, first spoke to the press the day after his alleged abduction. He said that Eitan could only fall asleep if she took him by the hand and that every time he left the room, he would give him his glasses to ensure his return. Biran-Nirko denied the allegations that she was an “unknown” to Eitan prior to the tragedy. “This is false, our families shared each other’s lives,” he said.
Last Monday, Eitan was due to start school, which his parents enrolled him in before he died. The Italian press published photos of his empty desk. With the custody battle far from resolved, Eitan’s desk could remain empty for some time.