SESTO CALENDE, Italy — Dark clouds quickly rolled in and moved past the sun-seeking revelers on the northern Italian lake, interrupting early afternoon aperitivos and lakeside strolls.
A weather warning issued earlier in the day had not predicted the violence of the storm that swept across the lake, with winds so extreme they sank a boat, killing four of its 23 passengers.
As for the news, Sunday’s crash on Lake Maggiore was a unusual tragedy which normally would have attracted fleeting attention.
But in the days that followed, the story caught on in the Italian media when it emerged that 21 people on the boat were spies or ex-spies, including 13 from the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, and eight from Italy.
The official explanations that had been celebrate a birthday they did nothing to appease the frenzy of speculation about his activities.
Two of the dead belonged to Italian secret services, according to a statement issued by Italian intelligence, while Israel said another victim was a retired Mossad agent.
The fourth victim, a Russian woman, had been married to the ship’s skipper.
Italians wondered what all those spies were really doing on a Sunday afternoon aboard a chartered boat called “Buona…uria” (a pun on an Italian term for pleasure).
Various media were quick to describe the meeting as “Spy Party”.
Some have speculated that the boat trip across the Alps was an opportunity to exchange information.
Was it a coincidence that the captain was fluent in Bulgarian, as some have pointed out, and was married to a Russian, Anna Bozhkova?
Were the spies scouring the lake for nearby Russian tycoons to invest, as the Milanese daily claimed on Thursday? Corriere della Sera?
The prosecutor investigating the crash, Massimo De Filippo, and his boss, chief prosecutor Carlo Nocerino, said such questions were beyond the scope of their investigation, which is to determine what caused the capsize and the ship sinking.
Carlo Carminati, 60, the skipper, is under investigation for manslaughter, shipwreck and injuries to surviving passengers.
“We don’t care what the passengers were doing,” Nocerino said in an interview at his office in Busto Arsizio, in Lombardy, the region that contains the part of the lake where the boat sank.
Nocerino said he asked the captain of the team that was trying to surface the boat to let him know immediately when she surfaced so he and De Filippo would be the first on board.
On Wednesday afternoon, the boat had run aground near shore but was still submerged after several unsuccessful attempts to lift it with balloons.
“I don’t want to leave any doubt that we haven’t completed the investigation,” Nocerino said.
The vessel and its contents will be seized and brought to justice, he added.
The prosecutor acknowledged media speculation that the government could close the investigation if any documents or briefcases were found.
“If we find briefcases, we confiscate them,” Nocerino said dryly.
Adding to the intrigue, it appears that the surviving passengers were picked up from the lake within hours of the crash.
The Mossad sent a plane to bring Israeli survivors home and tried to prevent details of the incident from being released to Israel, according to two Israeli defense officials.
(Israeli media did not report that the Israeli victim was a veteran of the moved until Wednesday).
A statement released by Italian intelligence identifying two of the victims – Claudio Alonzi, 62, and Tiziana Barnobi, 53 – as members of Italian intelligence said they had been in the area “to attend a coexistence meeting” on the occasion of the birthday of one of the group members. A spokesman for the Italian agency said he had nothing to add.
Israeli intelligence services have not officially released the real name of the Mossad veteran.
His funeral was held on Wednesday in Ashkelon, Israel.
The Mossad released a statement on Wednesday saying “due to his service to the organization, it will not be possible to provide further details about him.”
The Mossad has lost a dear friend, a dedicated and professional worker who had devoted his life to the security of the state of Israel for decades, even after his retirement.”
The deceased former Mossad agent had belonged to a unit responsible for the secret liaison with foreign intelligence servicesaccording to a former senior defense official, who asked not to be named when discussing the delicate relationship between intelligence agencies.
Although he had retired from Mossad service, he continued to serve as a reservist for the organization and came to Italy together with his colleagues as part of a cooperative relationship between Israeli and Italian spy organizations, the former official added. .
The Mossad and Italian intelligence collaborate on matters of common interest, such as the fight against terrorism or intelligence gathering Iranian nuclear project, added.
None of the survivors had identification documents with them when they testified about the incident to Italian military police officers on Sunday night.
They said they lost them when the boat capsized, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also confirmed that the Italians told investigators they were employees of the Cabinet Office, a department of the general government, while the Israelis said they were part of a government delegation.
Whatever the uncertainties surrounding the case, one thing is certain:
the unexpected violence of the storm on Lake Maggiore on Sunday night.
The Civil Protection of the Lombardy region had issued a Yellow Code – admonition – for the lake for possible thunderstorms during the night.
Although all bulletins had warned of worsening conditions in the area, “it was considered unlikely that there would be such intense events that night,” said Paolo Valisa, a meteorologist at a local meteorological agency.
“A thunderstorm can be predicted, but until now we have not been able to predict its intensity, at least in such a localized area.”
Nearby wind speed gauges on the lake indicated gusts between 42 and 60 km/h but could have been even higher where the boat was caught in a downburst, powerful winds that go down with the cold air of a storm and they spread, he said.
Samuel Panetti and several friends had also been on the lake in their boat on Sunday night and were the first to rescue the Buen…uria survivors.
“The weather has been nice all day,” she said, but when the storm hit, the rain was so heavy it was like sailing through a cloud.
“There was a lot of rain and hail, and the wind was moving the boat from left to right,” he recalls.
He saw what he thought at first was a group of seagulls in the middle of the lake, but as he got closer he saw they were people from the sinking ship, “screaming for help, like children.”
He and his friends helped some into the boat and threw “everything that floats” into the water for others to hold on to.
. Some of the survivors managed to swim ashore.
The two female victims were found trapped inside the chartered boat, which sank to a depth of approximately 15 metres.
A third victim was found on the bottom of the lake, while another was recovered floating.
“It was terrifying to see all those people in the water, it looked like a scene from a movie. I still have a hard time believing it was true,” she said.
“If we hadn’t gone by there, I think everyone would have died,” she said.
Paolo Mazzucchelli, director of public transport for Lake Maggiore, dElisabetta Povoledo and Ronen Bergmanijo that at the time of the accident “the wind speed had increased very rapidly in a very short time” and that the storm was “localized and very intense”.
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
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Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.