On the morning of 11 November 2000, 167 men, women and children boarded a funicular train that should have taken them to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.
But 155 of them died in the blaze, in a tunnel high above the town of Kaprun.
Most of the victims choked to death as they fled uphill to escape the blaze, which reached 1,000C.
"I did not realise the full extent of the catastrophe until two railway workers came directly from the tunnel... All they had found was the metal base of the train," regional governor Franz Schausberger said at the time.
The world of snowsports is still reeling from the shock of the tragic accident in Kaprun on Saturday.
Up to 170 people were killed when a fire engulfed an Austrian funicular train carrying skiers up to the Kitzsteinerhorn Glacier at Kaprun.
At this stage there is no firm indication of how the fire may have started although Austria has announced a criminal investigation into the tragedy. There was speculation that the blaze may have been started by an electrical fault. The inferno, which reached temperatures of more than 1000 C, virtually vaporised the train.
On 11 November 2000, 161 passengers and one conductor boarded the funicular train for an early morning trip to the slopes. After the passenger train ascended into the tunnel shortly after 9:00am, the electric heater in the unattended conductor's cabin at the lower end of the train caught fire, due to a design fault. The fire melted through plastic pipes carrying flammable hydraulic fluid from the braking system, and the resulting loss of fluid pressure caused the train to halt unexpectedly (this was a standard safety feature). The train conductor, who was in the cabin at the upper end of the train (which was the front, since the train was ascending), realised a fire had broken out, reported it to the control centre, and attempted to open the hydraulically operated train doors, but the system pressure loss prevented them from operating. The train conductor then lost contact with the control centre because the fire burned though a power cable running the length of the track, causing a total blackout.
The passengers, by this stage aware of the fire and unable to exit through the doors, attempted to smash the break-resistant acrylic glass windows in order to escape. Eleven passengers from the rear of the train who successfully broke a window followed the advice of another escaped passenger who had been a volunteer fire fighter for 20 years, and travelled downward past the fire and below the smoke.
Many of the still-trapped occupants had by now lost consciousness due to toxic fumes. Eventually, the conductor was able to unlock the doors, allowing them to be manually forced open by the remaining conscious passengers who spilled out into the tunnel and fled upwards and away from the fire. The tunnel acted like a giant chimney, sucking oxygen in from the bottom and rapidly sent the poisonous smoke, heat and the fire itself billowing upwards. All the passengers ascending on foot, as well as the train conductor, were asphyxiated by the smoke and then burned by the raging fire.
The conductor and the sole passenger on the railway's second train, which was descending the mountain in the same tunnel from above the burning carriage, also died of smoke inhalation. The smoke kept ascending the tunnel, reaching the Alpine Centre located at the top end of the track 2,500 metres away. Two fleeing workers in the Alpine Centre, upon seeing the smoke, alerted employees and customers and escaped via an emergency exit. They mistakenly left the exit doors open, a factor which increased the chimney effect within the tunnel by allowing air to escape upwards more quickly and further intensifying the fire. Meanwhile, the centre was filled with smoke and all except four people escaped the centre. Firefighters reached the centre and saved one of the four, while the other three were asphyxiated.
The twelve survivors of the disaster were the passengers who travelled downhill past the fire at the rear of the train, escaping the upward-rising fumes and smoke.
Nearly one year after the fire, the official inquiry determined the cause was the failure, overheating and ignition of one of the electric heaters installed in the conductor's compartments that were not designed for use in a moving vehicle. A slow leak of highly flammable hydraulic oil was ignited by the burning heater, which in turn melted the plastic fluid lines further feeding the flames, and also resulting in the hydraulic pressure loss which caused the train to stop and the doors to fail.