Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Pressing questions over rink tragedy

Rescue worker looks at collapsed roof
The roof came down at around 1600 local time

Today should be about the victims, the survivors, the bereaved, said Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, and not about deciding who was to blame for the ice rink catastrophe.

But a police inquiry has already opened to establish whether negligence played a role in the disaster, the deadliest roof collapse in recent German history.

There are two principal questions for any investigation: what caused the ceiling to cave in, and whether anything could have been done to ensure no-one was on the rink when it did.

Certainly the roof of the 1970s building was covered in snow when it came down: local officials said there was a covering of around 20cm (8 inches).

But there are strict regulations in Germany as to how much snow can cover a roof before it must be cleared and safety procedures kick in.

Bad Reichenhall's mayor, Wolfgang Heitmeier, insists that the weight of the snow had been checked on Monday and was well below the official limit. Consequently, he said, there had been no call to clear the roof immediately.

However, in view of further snowfall, it was decided that the rink should close at 1600, when public access usually finished and sporting practice often took place, Mayor Heitmeier said.

This would explain the phone call to the coach of a local ice hockey team, Thomas Rumpeltes, who said he was told at 1530 that the session had been cancelled as a precaution.

The roof caved in about half an hour later trapping people who had remained in the building.

But another line of investigation will also be the structure of the building, which was built in 1971. If snow levels were indeed below danger levels, why did the roof collapse?

While an overhaul of the building was discussed by local authorities over the summer, officials insist this was purely to do with the facilities inside, and not the structure itself.

Investigations into negligence are opened automatically in Germany in the case of such an accident.

It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether someone should take the blame for an incident which has shocked the country so soon into the new year.

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See the rescue effort in progress

In pictures: German ice rink collapse
03 Jan 06 |  In Pictures

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