The 6-year-old boy who was the only person to survive a cable car crash in world-regions earlier this year is now at the center of a custody dispute between his maternal and paternal relatives – with one side claiming he was flown to Israel over the weekend without their permission.
Fourteen people, including Eitan Biran’s parents and younger sibling, died in the May 23 accident in the Italian Alps. After the boy was released from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment for critical injuries, Italian juvenile court officials ruled that the child could live with a paternal aunt near Pavia, in northern Italy.
But the aunt, Aya Biran, told reporters on Sunday that the previous day, Eitan’s maternal grandfather took the boy on an agreed-up day visit, then flew him without permission to Israel.
The wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, is seen on May 26.
“His bed is empty, his toys and clothes were left behind. His new desk, school backpack, notebooks, pencil case and books were ready” for his first day of class on Monday, she said, according to the Associated Press.
Aya Biran added the boy has been undergoing both physical therapy and psychotherapy since his hospital release and was due to have follow-up medical visits this week, including one in Turin.
She contended that when the maternal grandfather had come to pick him up for an arranged visit on Saturday morning, it was agreed that the boy would be back by dinner. When Eitan didn’t return, the aunt filed a police report on Saturday night, Italian news reports say.
The maternal grandfather couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the AP. But a sister of Eitan’s late mother denied that the boy was snatched away from Italy.
“We did not abduct Eitan,” Gali Peleg told radio station 103 FM in Israel. “We will not use that word. What happened is that we brought Eitan home.”
Gali Peleg wouldn’t say exactly where the boy was, only that he had arrived on Saturday. “We are caring for his emotional state and health.”
In Italy, Aya Biran told reporters the boy has Italian citizenship and had been living with his parents since when he was a toddler in Italy before the accident. It wasn’t immediately possible to confirm if the child also had Israeli citizenship but he reportedly had an Israeli passport.
“We are upset and incredulous that they have gone this far,” Armando Sibari, an attorney for Eitan’s relatives on the Italian side, told La Repubblica, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This is a very serious act that will be investigated.”
The Italian foreign ministry wasn’t immediately commenting on the case.
The aunt in Israel told the radio station that the boy “screamed from excitement when he saw us. He said, ‘I’m finally in Israel.” The aunt added that “everything we did was only for the good of the boy.”
Pavia prosecutors’ offices were closed on Sunday and investigators couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by the AP on Italian news reports that they were considering opening an investigation into the case.
“I am certain and full of hope” that Israeli and Italian authorities will work together “to ensure his return home” to Italy, Aya Biran told reporters.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted a paternal uncle, Or Nirko, as saying Saturday that the Pelegs had the boy’s Israeli passport and had failed to give it to the paternal relatives despite an Italian court order that they do so by Aug. 30. Nirko was quoted as saying that the boy’s maternal grandparents had contended that if he stayed in Italy, “Eitan would have grown up without ties to his (Israeli) identity.’’
According to the paternal relatives, the maternal family had challenged in Italian courts the custody arrangement that let Eitan live with Biran, who is a doctor with her own children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.