The men “have admitted to what happened,” Carabiniere Lieutenant Colonel Alberto Cicognani claimed in an interview with CNN affiliate Skytg24 Wednesday morning.
According to Cicognani, the suspects said in their interrogation overnight that the cable car’s emergency brakes had been malfunctioning in the days leading up to Sunday’s accident. They told investigators that the brakes were activating when they were not supposed to and so were causing the car to stop while carrying passengers on board.
Cicognani said a decision was made to deactivate the emergency brake after a maintenance company was unable to fix the problem.
That decision meant “the emergency brake could not be activated, and this is why when the cable snapped, the car precipitated backwards,” he added.
Investigators believe 15 passengers, including two children, were riding in the Stresa-Mottarone cable car, which travels between the Lido di Stresa Piazza on Lake Maggiore to the nearby Mottarone mountain in the Piedmont region, when the accident occurred.
The car was nearing the end of its 20-minute voyage, some 1,491 meters (4,891 feet) above sea level at the top of the mountain, when a cable broke. The car then plummeted into a wooded area with no direct road access.
Five families were involved in the accident, from the regions of Lombardy, Romagna and Calabria, according to Italian state media earlier this week. Five Israeli nationals were among the dead, Israel’s foreign ministry said Monday.
Eitan Biran, a five-year-old Israeli boy — the only survivor — remains in critical condition in a Turin hospital.
He recently opened his eyes for a brief moment, and is no longer intubated, the hospital press office told CNN.
Giovanni La Valle, director of the Regina Margherita hospital, said that the child was still under sedation and not yet conscious, but that staff expected to be able to awaken him gradually in the coming hours.
“It is the most delicate moment,” La Valle said.