Eitan Biran: cable car crash survivor (6) must be returned to Italy, court rules

Grandfather drove boy to Switzerland and flew to Israel with him, prompting custody row

A Tel Aviv court has ordered that six-year-old Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy in May, be sent back to Italy to live with his Italian aunt.

The crash caused the deaths of 14 people, including Eitan’s father, mother, one-year-old brother and great-grandparents.

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident, and after his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, an Italian court ruled that the child would live with his paternal aunt, an Israeli-born doctor, near Pavia in northern Italy.

Eitan found himself at the centre of a bitter custody dispute in which his maternal family in Israel accused the boy's paternal relatives in Italy of abducting and mistreating him.


In September the boy's grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, who had retained possession of Eitan's Israeli passport, drove him in a rental car to Lugano, Switzerland, where they boarded a chartered business jet to Tel Aviv.

Relatives in Italy say Eitan was taken without their knowledge while the relatives in Israel insist they were acting in his best interest and deny breaking the law.


The boy’s paternal relatives went to court demanding he be brought back to Italy, claiming he had been kidnapped.

The Tel Aviv family court ruled on Monday that Biran had deeper ties with his Italian family and was more comfortable in their surroundings than was the case regarding his Israeli family.

The judge, Iris Ilotovich-Segal, expressed hope that the rift between the families could be healed.

“The boy is the only survivor of the cable car accident and the message of his late parents’ ‘spiritual will’ would be for their families to set the right path on which the boy can tread peacefully and safely between them,” she wrote.

The court also ruled that the grandfather “unlawfully” removed the boy, in breach of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, an agreement that can help return an abducted child who is under 16 to the country they usually live in. It ordered the grandfather to pay 70,000 shekels (€18,800) in court fees.

The boy’s paternal relatives welcomed Monday’s court ruling, urging his speedy return to put an end to the saga.

“There are no victors and no vanquished, no winners and no losers,” they said in a statement. “There is only Eitan. All that we ask now is that Eitan returns home quickly, to friends and to school, to his family and especially to the therapeutic and educational frameworks that he needs.”

Mr Peleg’s Israeli family said they would appeal the decision. “We will continue to fight for Eitan’s right to grow up in Israel,” he said.