Stranded families being rescued from a cable car in Patriata early Sunday. — Dawn
Stranded families being rescued from a cable car in Patriata early Sunday. — Dawn

MURREE: The Rawalpindi deputy commissioner has ordered an inquiry into the malfunction of the Patriata chairlift, on directions from the Punjab government.

A total of 106 people were trapped hanging at a height of hundreds of feet on the Patriata chairlift on Saturday when a chain slipped off a pulley because a pole had been uprooted in a windstorm. All the passengers have been rescued.

Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Ali Randhawa told Dawn that Murree Assistant Commissioner Ahmad Hassan Ranjha has been appointed to head the inquiry commission.

106 people trapped on chairlift rescued at 3am, inquiry ordered on directions from Punjab govt

Mr Randhawa, who supervised the rescue operation until 3am between Saturday night and Sunday, said that the Patriata and Pindi Point, Murree, chairlifts have been sealed with immediate effect.

The lift’s administration was asked to obtain a fitness report from the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore and another university after thorough technical assessments to prevent any such incidents in the future.

Mr Randhawa also confirmed that the lift’s administration had fled and officials from other departments were not trained or capable of finding a solution.

Eventually, the deputy commissioner said he called in a former lift employee, Gulzar Abbasi, who was dismissed from service with many others by the lift manager a few months ago, who along with other staffers repaired the pulley to rescue the passengers.

Because of the absence of light and the heavy storms, Mr Randhawa said it was not possible to carry out a rescue operation with helicopters and parachutes.

He praised Rescue 1122, Gulzar Abbasi and his team and the army’s SSG commandos and officials who worked to rescue the tourists.

Rescue 1122 sources were initially told that around 40 people were trapped in the incident, but it was later confirmed that 106 people, including children, were caught in the chairlift hundreds of feet high. A nightlong operation by rescue teams managed to rescue all 106 people at 3am.

Some passengers who had fainted and fallen ill were taken to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital where they are stated to be out of danger, a Rescue 1122 spokesperson confirmed.

When contacted, Patriata lift manager Mohsin Fazal denied that his staff and administration fled. He said some staffers were on leave and the rest of the technical staff helped the rescue teams.

When asked about the chairlift’s schedule for maintenance and routine checks, he said two firms – Techno Master and Top Tech – have been hired for the lift’s maintenance and technical fitness from time to time, along with weekly and fortnightly checks carried out by the lift’s technical staff.

Locals who participated in the rescue told Dawn that staffers, lift operators in particular, were watching a cricket match when they were informed by locals that the lift had stopped.

The chain from the lift had fallen on the roof of a local house and the residents had told lift staffers about the incident, a neighbouring local said on condition of anonymity.

According to the instructions from high-ups in the tourism department, the lift should only be functional when the weather forecast is suitable but this protocol was overlooked by the local lift administration.

Meanwhile, the Dolphin Force deployed by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in Murree to create a sense of security for tourists began patrolling today (Sunday).

Mr Buzdar also took notice of complaints of overcharging and substandard food in Murree and directed the administration to respond to public complaints swiftly and ordered an operation against such elements without discrimination.

He said disciplinary action would be taken against the concerned officers if any complaints of overcharging are received from now on.

He said a comprehensive plan needs to be executed to ensure traffic flows smoothly in Murree not just to facilitate tourists but to help resolve problems facing locals. He directed for a permanent solution to the chronic shortage of parking in Murree, adding that signboards for parking and notified fees should be installed at prominent sites.

The administration should take measures to bring accommodation charges to a justified level by liaising with hotel owners, he added.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2019