COURMAYEUR, Italy: More than 30 tourists who spent a terrifying night in cable cars in the French Alps were set to be brought to the ground Friday, operators said.
A total of 110 people became trapped when the cable cars ground to a halt shortly before 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) Thursday at an altitude of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) in the Mont Blanc region.
Seventy-seven people were rescued, including 48 airlifted out by helicopter in a delicate operation as darkness fell.
Thirty people in cable cars closest to the ground managed to climb down with the help of rescuers.
“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,” an unnamed man who was one of the first tourists to be rescued told French radio.
But with darkness falling and the weather deteriorating, the rescue operation was suspended, leaving 33 tourists, one of them a 10-year-old child, forced to spend the night dangling in mid-air.
Shortly before 8:00 am (0600 GMT), news came that the cable cars had restarted.
“They resumed five minutes ago, the last cable (which was blocking the system) was untangled,” Mathieu Dechavanne, CEO of the Mont-Blanc Company that manages the system, told Agence France-Presse.
He said the remaining passengers could now be rescued without the use of helicopters.
‘People were cold’
Police said all the remaining passengers seemed in good health.
“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, told Agence France-Presse..
The prefect of the Haute-Savoie region, Georges François Leclerc, said late Thursday that rescuers were forced to halt their operation at 8:45pm as they could not “guarantee the safety of the pilots, rescuers and the people stuck in the cars”.
During the night, a team of five rescuers, three French and two Italian police officers also attempted to reach the trapped tourists.
One of the officers managed to get into a car which contained a 10-year-old child.
Those still stuck had access to emergency blankets, energy bars and bottles of water in the cars.
Each cable car holds just four passengers. They connect Aiguille du Midi on the French side of the mountains with Pointe Helbronner on the Italian border.
The incident was caused by cables that got crossed for “unknown reasons”, but a gust of wind is thought to have played a part, Dechavanne said on Thursday.
The employees of the company were not able to repair the cars, forcing an evacuation operation to begin around 5:00pm.
The cable cars offer panoramic views of Mont Blanc, which straddles the French-Italian border.
The incident comes five years after around 40 people were stuck for nearly seven hours on the Grande-Motte cable car in the southeastern French Alps after it broke down.
They were evacuated through trap doors in the floor of the cars, using ropes to reach the ground 40 meters (130 feet) below. AFP