33 tourists spent Thursday night trapped in gondolas at 12,500-feet up on Mont Blanc in the French Alps.
They were rescued on Friday morning via helicopter, according to officials.
The gondola they were riding, the Valle Blanche Cable Car (Helbronner Gondola), was stopped after its cables crossed and became tangled due to high winds.
Originally, 110 people were trapped but 76 of them were rescued by helicopter and ropes on Thursday before nightfall. Once nightfall occurred, the rescue operation stopped and 33 people spent a very cold night at 12,500-feet in the gondolas. Food, water, and blankets were provide to the 33 who overnighted in the gondolas.
TOURIST ACCOUNTS of the INCIDENT:
“The cable car left about 2:30 in the afternoon and it was just before midnight when they finally brought us out of the gondolas.’ The helicopter rescue failed because the fog moved in, so we had to just wait and then they decided they could bring us safely to the ground, and we walked up the glacier to the hut.”- Kathy Cook, USA tourist
“The last hour seemed very, very long. We called the operators who explained that three cables got snarled up and they had to be untangled – but they didn’t manage to do it.” – Tourist told French Radio
The rescue operation was very difficult and unique involving 36 stranded gondola cars stretched out over 3.1-miles.
“The extent of this rescue operation is simply unbelievable.” – Local policeman Col Frederic Labrunye told AFP news agency
Frederic went on to describe the rescue operations as “air surgery”. Helicopters had to avoid the cables, lower rescuers onto the small gondolas that are “not larger than a table”, strap each passenger individually to a rope, then extract them one by one.
French, Italian, and Swiss rescue teams took part in rescue.
The Valle Blanche Cable Car stretches from the Aiguille du Midi in France at 12,605′ to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy at 11,358′ and offers incredible views of 15,800′ Mt. Blanc.