German engineer alleges lies in Kaprun fire catastrophe trial

German engineer alleges lies in Kaprun fire catastrophe trial
A German expert witness on Monday reportedly said evidence about the cause of an inferno in an Austrian ski train that killed 155 people was manipulated in order to hide crimes which contributed to the fire.

The catastrophe in the funicular wiped out entire families and nearly forty Germans died as they were trapped in the burning carriages on the short trip up to ski slopes in the Austrian resort of Kaprun back in 2000.

Various trials have been held in Austria, and nearly €14 million was paid out this summer to 451 relatives who had made claims for compensation. But no one was found responsible for the fire, which started when oil from the brake system dripped onto the heater.

The train stopped in a tunnel and the passengers were trapped as the doors did not open from the inside. Only very few managed to escape, and the fact that the tunnel was not lit made things worse, as well as the fact that only a small service staircase was available for their exit.

Initially 16 people, including some of those responsible for the train company, two officials from the local authority and two technicians were charged with negligence.

They were all acquitted, a decision which led to furious protests by relatives of those who had died. Arguments about whether Austrian or international safety rules should have applied led to an appeal, which ruled that although earlier court hearings could have thrown the case out or heard it again with more witnesses, the initial decision now held.

Now Hans-Joachim Keim, a German engineer working as a expert for Fakir, the German firm which made the heater, has alleged that people lied in the Austrian trials to hide their responsibility, according to a report in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

He even alleges that pieces of evidence, including oil smears, disappeared during the investigation. He says the installation of the heater in 1992 was, “negligent, if not grossly negligent.” He said the heater was a domestic model, designed for homes not public transport, and its instructions said it should not be built into a vehicle.

“During the trial the court always just assumed that the heater manufacturer had to be guilty,” he said.

His testimony was only taken notice of by the German public prosecutor, and was not heard in Austria. He has filed criminal complaints with the Austrian authorities against the four experts who gave evidence in the trials. These complaints have reached the justice ministry in Vienna.

The German authorities investigated Fakir as the company is a German one, and last September, ruled that it could not be proven to have contributed to the fire.

Those who died included 92 Austrians, 37 Germans, 10 Japanese, eight Americans, four Slovenians, two Dutch, one Brit and a Czech.