Buildup of ice brought down tower

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Twelve injured, 53 trapped in Gondolas

Officials at the ski resort in Whistler, B.C., say an unexpected and undetected build up of ice brought down a ski lift tower, stranding dozens of terrified passengers for hours in disabled gondolas hanging precariously from downed lift lines.

Twelve people were slightly injured among the 53 skiers and snowboarders trapped in the unheated cabins after the tower on the Excalibur gondola buckled Tuesday afternoon. One staff member was also cut during the evacuation process and sought medical attention.

Christine Parkinson and her friend Sue Makinson-Sanders, both of England look at a gondola car hanging above a creek at Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, B.C., Wednesday after a gondola tower partially collapsed Tuesday. - Photo by The Canadian Press

WHISTLER, B.C. - Officials at the ski resort in Whistler, B.C., say an unexpected and undetected build up of ice brought down a ski lift tower, stranding dozens of terrified passengers for hours in disabled gondolas hanging precariously from downed lift lines.

Twelve people were slightly injured among the 53 skiers and snowboarders trapped in the unheated cabins after the tower on the Excalibur gondola buckled Tuesday afternoon. One staff member was also cut during the evacuation process and sought medical attention.

Doug Forseth, senior vice-president of operations for the resort, said the most serious injury was a fractured vertebrae. Most of the injured had bumps and bruises, he told reporters at a news conference Wednesday.

Forseth said the tower failure occurred when water seeped into a splice on a section of Tower 4 on the lift. The water froze as temperatures plummeted, rupturing the splice as it expanded into ice.

Resort officials called it "an extremely unusual situation referred to as 'ice-jacking."'

Forseth said he has confidence in the safety systems in place at the resort, but acknowledged that the incident may leave some people wondering.

"We're going to work very hard to restore the confidence where it's been damaged," Forseth said.

Sue Makinson-Sanders said she thought she was going to die as the gondola she was riding slammed into a house, bounced off some trees and then hung precariously over a creek for hours.

"Our gondola started to clip the tree-tops and the next few minutes were the most terrifying of my life," she said. "Once the gondola stopped, we all sat very still because we thought we were going to plummet into the river."

Yet the British tourist said she will finish her planned two-week vacation and even return to the slopes Thursday.

"I am a little stiff and sore ... but I plan on going back up Whistler Mountain because if I don't face my fears, I will never ski again," she said.

Resort officials said all the gondola cabins remained on the line, but a number of them dropped about nine metres as the line sagged after the tower buckled. Two of them bounced off the ground, injuring passengers.

Forseth said emergency officials had to stabilize the tower before they could attempt an evacuation.

The Excalibur gondola was built in 1995 and went through a safety inspection in October.

"At the time, we were not able to tell there was water in the tower," Forseth said. "We don't think we were negligent or missing anything."

A team of 20 lift maintenance staff spent the night inspecting the resort's lifts for similar problems.

The British Columbia Safety Authority, along with resort staff, were inspecting the lifts at the resort Wednesday.

All but the Excalibur were expected to be in operation by the end of the day.

Organizations: British Columbia Safety Authority

Geographic location: WHISTLER, Gondolas, Whistler Mountain

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments