MILAN – When a freak waterspout on Lake Maggiore sank a boat filled with passengers on Sunday evening, killing four people, it was clear that unusual weather conditions had caused the incident.

However, an ongoing investigation suggests that human error may have also contributed to the tragedy.

“Goduria”, the 15m boat owned by businessman Claudio Carminati, set off on Sunday afternoon from Lisanza, a hamlet near Sesto Calende on northern Italy’s picturesque Lake Maggiore. Twenty-three people were on board, many of them employees of the Italian secret services and their counterparts from Israel’s Mossad, who were visiting Italy and had been looking forward to a day in the sun.

“The Saturday was absolutely beautiful – a proper summer’s day – and Sunday also started well,” Giovanni Buzzi, mayor of Sesto Calende, told i. “In the late afternoon, it all changed.”

As the skies darkened, 70km per hour winds ripped across the lake, flipping the boat. Passengers were flung into the lake, with many swimming about 150m to Lisanza’s shores. Four, however, died in the water. An autopsy will determine exactly how.

The victims include Claudio Alonzi, 62, and Tiziana Baroni, 53 – two employees of the Italian secret services – and Shimoni Erez, 53, an ex member of the Israeli security forces. Anna Bozhkova, Mr Carminati’s 50-year-old Russian wife, was also among the dead.

Firefighters hauled up “Goduria” on Monday, allowing investigators to probe further. Built in 1982 by a Dutch company, the boat had a maximum capacity of just 15 – eight fewer than were on board when disaster struck.

Sector insiders have suggested the boat was too full. “It was probably overloaded,” said an employee of the Sant’Anna Nautical Centre rental shop in Sesto Calende, whose name i has agreed to withhold. “That much is clear: there were definitely too many people.”

Mr Carminati and his wife were known locally for taking passengers out on his boat, the employee said.

A worker at the Verbella Marina near Sesto Calende, who called himself Matteo and would not provide his surname, said it was “absolutely not normal” to have nearly two dozen guests on a 15m boat.

Mr Carminati advertised rented days out in his boat online, writing “we also go out in the event of rain”. How he knew the passengers remains unclear. The captain did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An ongoing investigation is being led jointly by public prosecutors in Busto Arsizio and the Carabinieri in Varese.

“How much danger they knew they were placing themselves in remains to be seen,” Colonnel Alessandro Giuliani, head of the Varese force, told i.

Speculation has swirled about whether local authorities provided adequate weather warnings.

Mr Buzzi claimed the municipality had received a so-called “yellow” warning from, which signals a low-level risk, from Italy’s central meteorological system for Sunday evening via email. Officials did not open the email before returning to their offices on Monday, he said.

More serious orange and red warnings are usually sent directly to the mayor’s phone, he added.

“The lake was overcome with a storm of unusual ferocity,” Mr Buzzi said. “Nobody could have predicted that.”

Italian officials said the secret service workers were in the Varese area “for a convivial get-together to celebrate the birthday of one of the group”. The Israeli survivors have already returned to Israel, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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