Dozens rescued after B.C. gondola tower collapses
Published Tuesday, December 16, 2008 8:25PM PST
Emergency crews evacuated dozens of skiers and snowboarders who were left stranded aboard sagging gondola cars when a support tower collapsed Tuesday.
The passengers were stuck for several hours in subzero temperatures when the tower caved in around 2:30 p.m.
By 6:15 p.m., all of the passengers had been evacuated, CTV B.C. reported.
The RCMP reported that 10 people were injured in the incident, but none of the injuries were serious enough to be considered life-threatening.
Fifty-three people were stuck in subzero temperatures for several hours.
By Tuesday evening, the lower line of the two-part gondola was leaning quite heavily to one side. The gondolas did not fall during the crash, but remained on the wire cable with passengers inside.
At least six people were trapped inside the gondola car closest to the base of the mountain. That car was hovering a few feet above the ground, and came to rest on top of a bus shelter in the resort town's village.
A second gondola with several people inside was left hovering dangerously close to Fitzsimmons Creek, a fast-moving mountain stream.
A terrifying ordeal
Passenger Cynthia Jennings, who was in a car halfway up the mountain when the pole snapped, said the ordeal was frightening.
"All we saw were other cars swinging sideways and we thought we were going to crash to the ground," she told CTV News by cell phone.
"I thought the whole cable system was going to come down. I couldn't even breathe."
The fire department used a long ladder to reach some of the passengers. The cause of the accident is still unknown.
Earlier in the day, police said there didn't appear to be any danger of a further collapse and a truck with a support arm was used to prevent the tower from moving.
Witness Dave Komadowski, who was standing at the base of the mountain when the tower collapsed, said some of the nearby houses may have been damaged during the incident.
He added that one house was damaged when the cable dropped onto its roof.
A lift legacy
The cable-led Excalibur gondola is more than two kilometres longs and climbs more than 350 vertical metres up Blackcomb Mountain. Each cabin holds eight people.
Since the Excalibur is a two-stage gondola system, only the lower section of the gondola was stopped, said Doug Forseth, a spokesperson from the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.
"The upper stage on Blackcomb has been separated from the lower stage, and we are able to run those people off the line. And they are off the mountain now so that's not an issue."
Forseth added that before evacuations could start, emergency crews had to ensure that other sections of the gondola remained stable.
This is not the first accident to happen on a ski lift at Whistler-Blackcomb, which will host alpine events at the 2010 Winter Games.
In 1993, an accident on Whistler's Quicksilver lift killed two men, and injured nine others.
The high-speed lift was ferrying skiers to the top of the mountain when a chair slipped on a cable and slammed into another, sending four chairs crashing into the rocks three storeys below.
With files from The Canadian Press