The Story: Death on the Glacier –
Whose Fault Was the Tunnel Fire in Kaprun?

Length: 45 minutes (WDR, 17 June 2002)
The wristwatches found on the 150 charred corpses all show the same time: 9:11 a.m. The fire in the narrow tunnel must have spread so lightning-fast that the passengers aboard the glacier lift on the Kaprun glacier were asphyxiated and burnt to death in one fell swoop. Even those who raced up the emergency stairs to a height of 142 metres.

How did it come to a flash-fire where only 12 passengers survived because they knocked out the windowpanes with their ski poles? WDR author Valentin Thurn spoke with the survivors. They reported there were 2 explosions. He visited the glacier lift at the scene of the accident and found a round steel tank that burst due to the force of an explosion. It had contained hydraulic oil for the emergency brake. As its technical director explained, the glacier-lift operator itself had not reckoned in the least with a catastrophe. Which is why there were neither emergency hammers nor fire extinguishers in the passenger compartments, and neither emergency lighting nor exhaust ventilation in the tunnel. The glacier-lift operator shifts the responsibility onto the manufacturer of the glacier-lift line because it installed a defective fan heater and a chassis made of plastic. The manufacturer, in turn, shifts the blame onto the “TÜV”, the local technical certification association, because it didn’t inspect the measures for fire prevention. For its part, the association says that it’s the Ministry of Transportation’s fault because it forgot to issue appropriate regulations. A system of nothing but sloppiness. One in which a lot of money is earned: That winter was a record season. More skiers than ever before had spent their holidays in Austria. Even in Kaprun the tragedy seems to be forgotten: The hotels are booked solid. In the aftermath of the accident skiers are now being brought to the glacier via a hastily erected cable-car line.

At the trial in Salzburg against 16 defendants who had been in charge, all that the deceaseds’ next of kin can expect as compensation pursuant to Austrian law are a few thousand euros. That’s why Ed Fagan, a star lawyer from New York, convinced most of them to sue for damages in America. The impending trial in the USA revolving around billions could turn out to be a precedent for other large-scale accidents in Europe.

Screenplay and director: Valentin Thurn
Camera: Harm Garlichs
Sound: Frank Sbitschka
Editor: Birge Griesenböck
Narrators: Katja Ruppenthal, Henning Freiberg, Charly Wagner
Executive Producer: Gert Monheim

More information
Kaprun Home Page
Kitzsteinhorn - Home Page