ROME — Six Russians were killed and two seriously injured when the snowmobile and sled they were riding veered off an Italian Alpine ski slope at night, slammed into a barrier and flew through the air into a ravine.
The accident occurred Friday, and when rescuers arrived at the scene six of the victims were found dead on the slope of Mount Cermis, in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of northeast Italy, said Cavalese Fire Department Cmdr. Roberto Marchi.
''It is clear that the fundamental cause is recklessness and imprudence," Marchi told Sky TG24 TV in an interview on the slope Saturday. It is labeled ''pista nera" or the black ski run, indicating a level of steepness and other difficult conditions suitable only for the most experienced skiers.
Six of the people involved in the accident were Russian tourists and the other two were Russians who worked in Italy in the tourist industry.
Cavalese Mayor Silvano Welponer said that putting a driver and passenger in the snowmobile and having it pull six passengers in the sled ''made for a very heavy load. You have to know what you are doing and have the experience" to safely handle that, he said.
The ANSA news agency said authorities were performing tests to determine if the snowmobile's driver — who survived the crash — was drunk.
The sled-towing snowmobile cut a spectacular trajectory after it veered off the slope on a curve, hit the man-made barrier, flew through the air while shearing the tips off tree branches, then landed in the ravine, Italian news reports said.
RAI state radio said the slope was unlit, and other Italian news reports quoted local officials as saying it had been closed for the day and that the only vehicles allowed on it when it is open are staff or rescue ones. The Russians were believed to have dined at the top of the slopes and were heading back to their hotel when they crashed, the reports said.
The Russian consul general in Milan, Alexei Parmonov, said on Russian state television that he was in contact with Italian investigators, who he said suspect the crash was caused by excessive speed. They also were checking the possibility of a mechanical malfunction.
Parmonov identified the four men and two women who died in the crash.
Italian prosecutors formally opened an inquiry to see if manslaughter charges should be filed, Italian news reports said.