Everyone aboard the cable car was killed
Major worldwide cable car accidents since 1976
Web posted at: 9:08 a.m. EDT (1308 GMT)
GRENOBLE, France -- A cable car plummeted to the ground in the French Alps early Thursday, killing all 20 people on board, local officials said.
Earlier reports indicated 21 people died.
The cause of the crash, which occurred at 7:30 a.m. as the cable car was taking staff members of an observatory to the top of the 2,700-meter (8,900-foot) Pic de Bure mountain, was not immediately known.
The regional prefect, Remi Caron, said the car detached itself from the cable, but the cable did not snap, as had been previously reported.
Most of the victims were reported to be employees of the observatory, which is run by French, German and Spanish scientists. The cable car was used only for the observatory and no tourists were believed to be on board.
The cable car fell 80 meters (260 feet), in the resort town of Saint-Etienne-en-Devoluy, south of Grenoble.
"The cable car fell. We don't know why. These are working people and they are dead," the resort's mayor, Jean-Marie Bernard, told Radio France-Info.
The crash occurred at a resort in the French Alps
A spokesman in the prefect's office said 10 staff members of a public works company, five scientists from the IRAM astronomical institute and telephone company employees from Marseille were among the victims.
All the bodies were recovered Thursday morning, officials at the prefect's office confirmed.
An official investigation has begun into the cause of the accident, France's worst cable car disaster in more than 30 years.
The chief representative of the cable car union said the cable car was built in the 1980s and had recently passed a safety inspection. "It was in perfect working order," Charles Simiand said.
Simiand said the system consisted of one cable car with room for 20 passengers and another smaller one used to transport equipment.
Scientists from all over the world are known to visit the observatory, which is used virtually year round.
IRAM, the Institut de Radio-Astronomie Millimetrique, has set up six large antennas on top of the mountain to monitor stellar activity.
The crash occurred near the site of a 1976 accident on the same gondola lift, blamed on operator error, which killed 42 people.