Nine German tourists, most of them children, were killed yesterday when a concrete block was dropped from a helicopter on to a cable car in the Austrian Alps.
Police said six children were killed as they travelled to a glacier near Sцlden, in Tyrol, western Austria. The 1,650lb concrete block, which fell from 1,000 ft, knocked one car off the cables, sending it plunging down a mountainside.
Other cars were left swinging so powerfully that passengers were tossed out of them, causing 10 people to suffer serious injuries, the Red Cross said.
The helicopter is believed to have been carrying material for construction work to improve the cable car's safety. Helicopters ferried the dead and injured to hospital in nearby Innsbruck and Zams.
"Everything happened very quickly and now we have nine people dead," said Ernst Schцpf, the mayor of Sцlden.
"The block dropped on the cable, set it swinging, causing one car to fall and the others to swing around." Austrian television showed bodies strewn across the rocks below the glacier, reports Telegraph.
Gottlieb Huetter, a police spokesman, said: "The people and cars fell about 15 metres. The injuries of some survivors were quite bad. People were flung out of the cars when they collided due to the vibration on the cables."
The cars can hold up to eight passengers at a time and are glassed in.
Mr Huetter added: "The passengers would not know what had hit them. It was like being bombed."
Roy Knaus, the head of the Heli Alpin Knaus helicopter company, said he believed the pilot had had no idea that he had lost part of his load.
Carl Ferrari-Brunnenfeld, a spokesman for the Austrian transport ministry, described the incident as a "tragic accident" and said it showed "how important it is that all safety procedures are strictly adhered to".
He added that cargo helicopters do not need special permission to take to the air and that the company is responsible for securing the materials they are transporting.
Just last year 113 passengers on the same lift had to be rescued and abseiled to safety when an empty cabin got stuck and later crashed to the ground, informs Scotdman.
Photo: the AP