People hiking nearby heard a loud hiss just before the crash, she said, adding that the accident was believed to have been caused by one of the cables breaking.
Severino said that some of the victims had been found trapped inside the car, with others thrown into the woods.
Italy’s alpine rescue service said a call had first come just after midday (8pm AEST), adding that the cable car was lying “crumpled” in the woods and two children were taken by helicopter to a paediatric hospital in the nearby city of Turin.
The elder of the two, who was believed to be between 9 and 10, died after suffering two cardiac arrests.
Director General Giovanni La Valle said the hospital did not have personal data for the two children and that nobody had been in contact with the hospital, indicating that other family members could have been involved in the accident.
The younger child, estimated to be 5 years old, was conscious on arrival and was undergoing surgery to stabilise multiple fractures, La Valle said.
The Stresa-Mottarone lift had only recently re-opened following the gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
“It’s a terrible moment for me and for our community and I think also for the whole of Italy. Especially now that we were just beginning to restart (after the pandemic),” Severino said.
The Mottarone peak is popular among tourists because of its panoramic views on Lake Maggiore and its picturesque islands as well as the vista of the surrounding Alps.
The cable car service first opened in August 1970 after almost three years of works to replace a cog railway.
The dual cable system is split into two sections, just over two kilometres between Stresa and Alpino and another three kilometres between Alpino and Mottarone. It consist of two cars – in alternate directions – with each one carrying up to 40 passengers.
Severino said that important maintenance works, including changing the cables, had been carried out in recent years.
“All of this is hard to believe,” the mayor said
A photo of the wreckage taken by Italy’s fire department showed the crushed and crumpled remains of the cable car in a clearing of a thick patch of pine trees near the summit of the Mottarone peak overlooking Lake Maggiore.
At that location, about 100 metres before the final pylon, the cables of the lift were particularly high off the ground, said Walter Milan, spokesman for the Alpine rescue service. The cause hasn’t been determined.
It appeared to be Italy’s worst cable car disaster since 1998 when a low-flying US military jet cut through the cable of a ski lift in Cavalese, in the Dolomites, killing 20 people.
Italy’s transport minister, Enrico Giovannini, was following the rescue effort, which involved the deployment of three helicopters to the mountainside.
It’s the latest incident to raise questions about the quality of Italy’s transport infrastructure. In 2018, the Morandi bridge in Genoa collapsed after years of neglect, killing 43 people.