TRENTO, Italy, Feb. 3 -- At least 20 people are dead after a U. S. Marine aircraft clipped a cable car wire in the northern Italian resort of Masi di Cavalese in Trento. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen confirmed the latest death toll, up from an earlier report of 14, at a briefing in Washington this afternoon. A Marine plane flying at low altitude reportedly struck the wire at about 3:30 p.m. local time (1430 GMT) today, sending one gondola plunging about 300 feet to the ground and leaving another hanging.
Eleven men and nine women are reported dead -- seven Germans, two Poles, two Hungarians and nine Italians. Traveling in New Mexico, President Clinton telephoned Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi to apologize for the deadly accident. Aides say Clinton told Prodi he was 'so sorry' for the accident, which he called 'awful.' In Aviano, U.S. Air Force spokesman Lt. John Haynes identified the aircraft as an EA-6B Marine Prowler. The resort in Trento is just 62 miles from the NATO air base in Aviano, where the pilot of the plane was based. He was on a routine training mission when the accident occurred. Pictures from the scene showed rescue workers and vehicles surrounding a flattened gondola, with overhead cables draped across the snow-covered landscape. Margaret Meixner from the Cavalese Tourist Office said, 'The plane was flying very low.' An accident on the same cable car line in March 1976 left 42 people dead. Atlantic Command spokesman Lt. Col. Stan Gould, speaking from the Marine base in Norfolk, Va., said U.S. Marine officers will begin investigating the accident on Wednesday. ---
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