Tourists stuck in French Alps cable cars rescued

Published September 10, 2016
A HELICOPTER hovers over the three cable cars that stalled after a malfunction.—AP
A HELICOPTER hovers over the three cable cars that stalled after a malfunction.—AP

COUR MAYEUR: More than 30 tourists who spent a dramatic night stranded in cable cars above the French Alps were brought to the ground on Friday after an 18-hour ordeal, operators said.

They were the last of 110 sightseers trapped when the cable cars ground to a halt on Thursday afternoon in the shadow of Mont Blanc, western Europe’s loftiest peak.

After a night in the frozen dark, dangling at an altitude of 3,800 metres, the string of cars lurched into movement at around 8am.

The incident was caused by cables that got crossed for “unknown reasons”, but a gust of wind is thought to have played a part, said Mathieu Dechavanne, boss of the Mont-Blanc Company which manages the system. The cars were restarted after the last cable was untangled, he said.

The 33 remaining passengers were able to reach the ground by exiting the cars at three points on the way down, an official said.

Teams on Thursday had been able to rescue 77 passengers, most of them by helicopters and others who were able to climb down with help.

But as darkness fell and the weather deteriorated, the operation was suspended, leaving the remaining tourists, one of them a 12-year-old boy, to spend the night suspended in mid-air.

The boy’s sister, Italian tourist Maria Elena Perrone, 18, was rescued on Thursday but then had an agonising wait for news of her brother and parents who were in a different cable car.

“It was terrible. My brother had to stay up there with my parents and they were only wearing sweatshirts. When the Sun set, it was cold,” she said, sobbing.

“For two and a half hours we didn’t know what had happened and the cable car was moving a lot when they were trying to untangle the cables.”

An elderly man was treated for hypothermia but all the passengers trapped overnight in the small, four-person pods were in good condition despite their ordeal, police said.

“We were in contact with them throughout the night, the people were cold” but there did not appear to be any health emergencies, the local police chief, Stephane Bozon, said.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2016

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