A judge in Israel has ruled that a six-year-old boy who was the sole survivor of a cable car crash and has become embroiled in a bitter custody battle must be returned to Italy.
Eitan Biran lost his parents, who were Israeli nationals living in Italy, and two-year-old brother in the aerial tramway crash in northern Italy in May.
He then lived with his paternal aunt in Pavia, Lombardy, before allegedly being abducted by his maternal grandfather and taken to Tel Aviv in September.
Judge Iris Ilotovich-Segal said on Monday that the child must be returned “to the place of his normal residence, which is Italy” and ordered his grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, to pay about €18,000 (£15,000) in expenses and legal costs.
Eitan, who suffered injuries to his head and legs in the crash, went to live with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran-Nirko, after he was discharged from hospital in Turin in June. Biran-Nirko was granted temporary custody soon after the tragedy so that Eitan, who has an Italian and an Israeli passport, could continue to be given the necessary medical care.
However, the move was contested by relatives on his mother’s side in Israel, and tensions between the two sides of the family escalated.
Peleg, who had moved to Italy after the accident, drove the boy across the border to Lugano in Switzerland before flying him by private plane to Tel Aviv.
Eitan’s paternal relatives claimed he had been taken away against their wishes and immediately filed a petition for his return to Italy. Peleg argued that he had acted in the boy’s best interests.
Eitan was born in Israel but had been living in Italy since he was one month old. He had been due to start school two days after his alleged abduction.
Ilotovich-Segal said Eitan’s removal from Italy was unlawful and had violated the guardianship rights of his paternal aunt. The judge urged the family to reconcile, saying: “There is supreme importance in focusing on the medical and emotional condition of the minor and giving him the support, treatment and embrace he needs following the tragedy that befell him and his family.”
Eitan’s great-grandparents also died in the crash, which is believed to have happened when a lead cable snapped, causing the cabin to hurtle backwards before falling about 20 metres into a wooded area below. The cabin was just a few metres away from Monte Mottarone, its destination almost 1,500 metres above sea level, when the crash happened.
Fifteen people had boarded the cable car in Stresa, the town below, next to Lake Maggiore, for the 20-minute ride. Eight of the 14 who died, including a five-year-old boy, were Italian nationals. The other victim was an Iranian national who lived in Rome.