The experience of being trapped, dangling at 7,600 ft in one of the world’s longest tramways would be scary enough. Getting extracted via helicopter from the tram to get back down to safety would probably be terrifying for most people. Yet, there are likely a few people in here who’d have liked it…
If you’ve ever been trapped on a ski lift, you know the sinking sensation that comes with the experience:
A. You know that your fun ski day is about to take a major hit
B. Not knowing how long you’ll be stranded eats away at your mind
& C. If it does come down to you having to be extracted, it’s a major ordeal
That’s just what happened to 251 tourists yesterday on France’s legendary Aiguille du Midi cable car. The cable car broke down yesterday on it’s way up the mountain just before 11am, local time.
“At 10.40 am [may 15th, 2013], the first carriage of the cable car had engine trouble, caught fire and broke down, leaving the 251 holiday-makers stranded for a time at 2,310 metres, Laurent Berger, from the Compagnie du Mont Blanc told French TV TF1.” – thelocal.fr
Once it was confirmed that the cable car was good and stuck, officials got two helicopters moving up and down the mountain ferrying passengers back to ground level. The helicopters made 45 trips and brought down 171 people down to safety. This was a serious undertaking regardless if they were evacuated from the mid-station or the tram itself.
“We weren’t capable of repairing the engine by the afternoon, so we decided to bring the remaining people back down in helicopters.” – Laurent Berger
After about 5 hours of being stranded, repairmen were able to get the cable car running again and the remaining 80 passengers rode the cable car down to the base without incident.
What we are wondering is how these helicopter extractions took place? It sounds very intricate. Someone would have had to have lowered from the heli to the cable car, then gotten people on top of the car, harnessed them, then hoisted them up to the heli. This is a complex interaction. And to do this 45 times? Unreal. We’re hoping some video or photos surface today to give us more info on this operation. The French are legendary for their helicopter rescue services and this may have been one of their most impressive feats.
Or, more likely, they were just rescued from the mid-station.
Chamonix officials are saying there’s no reason to fear an incident like this happening again and that the tram is safe to ride.
“Engine failures are extremely rare. The one that blew had been checked just three weeks ago.” – Laurent Berger
Earlier this month a fire in the night totally destroyed a cable car at the French resort of Morzine. It’s rare, but not unheard of. It is amazing how much faith we put in these machines. But, we love ‘em nonetheless. We’re very happy to report that no one was injured in this incident on the Aiguille du Midi.