Officials laughed as people died in avalanche in Pescara

RIGOPIANO - An investigation launched into the avalanche in the slopes of mountain Gran Sasso d’Italia in the province of Pescari, that killed 29 people on Jan. 18, has revealed that officials laughed at the situation in the region, an hour before the avalanche hit the Hotel Rigopiano.

 Details of the probe on the response measures after the avalanche were revealed on Feb. 7, 20 days after the tragedy. News source Ansa has quoted transcripts of a conversation between an employee of the highway company ANAS, Carmine Ricca, and the provincial transport chief, in which Ricca jokes that “if we have to liberate the spa, we might as well have a swim too.” The chief laughed at the comment.

 The jovial conversation captures the tone of the response team. Ansa also quotes the regional head of Forza Italia, Lorenzo Sospiri, speaking to the man nominated to prepare the rescue operations, Claudio Ruffini, as saying that “people are dying and you do not realise it.”

 The gravity of the situation has fallen heavily on those who failed to act. A former general, 39, in the forest rangers killed himself last weekend after leaving a letter saying the 29 people who died in the avalanche “weigh me down like a millstone.” The family of the general, Guido Conti, said there was “no link between the Rigopiano disaster and the former general’s death.”

 Quintino Marcella recounted his attempts to send rescue after his friend called him from the hotel. “He carried on calling for help and saying that ‘the others are all dead,’ but I do not know if it is true. He said ‘I have lost everything.’ I pray to Jesus that they are found alive. Unfortunately, the rescue car left with two hours of delay,” he concluded.

 Two hours passed before someone actually responded. While all the hotel guests were grouped in the hall waiting to leave, the snow plough set to arrive at 3 p.m was postponed until 7 p.m. Marcella called the emergency numbers 118, 112, and 115 looking for help, but it was 8 p.m before the rescue teams set out on their skis on their long nocturnal journey. They only arrived at 4 a.m. at the hotel. After all this effort, Marcella said that "they believed me. They asked me questions. I was in touch with my friend through messages…”

 “If mistakes were made they will be rectified. If there is anything else, it will be looked into, each person will assume their own responsibilities. But I cannot go into who is guilty or not, there is an investigation underway and it is right to respect the investigative organisations,” said Francesco Provolo, local representative of Pescara's government, who is among the 23 people being investigated for the deaths.