Britons lowered to safety after cable car ordeal

A PARTY of British and American tourists were winched to safety after being stranded in two cable cars at150ft for almost eight hours.

Seven Britons were among the party of 40 tourists who were trapped in mid-air when their cable cars' engine failed half way up the 450m Floeya mountain, near Tromso, in Norway.

The tourists, including a handful of children and pensioners, had been spending the hottest day of the year sightseeing in the Norwegian fjords. The outing was part of a cruise with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Splendour of the Seas, which sailed from Harwich, in Essex.

Witnesses said that between 15 and 20 passengers were winched to safety before a further complication occurred: the onboard emergency winching equipment seized up in the heat. Expert mountain climbers and a helicopter were called in to stage a rescue operation which began at 2pm and ended at 10pm on Sunday.

The rescue team climbed up the ropes which were dangling from the cars and then used them to lower the remaining passengers to the ground below. The passengers were then taken by helicopter back to the ship about 2km away.

"It was a very difficult rescue," said Chief Supterintendent Kurt Petdersen, of Tromso police. "It was a very terrifying experience for the people on board, but we were amazed how calm they were... It appears that a number of fuses on the winching system stopped simultaneously and the lift came to a halt and couldn't be moved."

The Fjellheisen Lift Service, which runs the cable cars, has started an inquiry into why the winching equipment used to rescue the tourists had failed. "The winches are tested each year. But we have never tested them in such extreme heat [around 26C] in the middle of summer," a spokesman said.

"Obviously, they got too hot and simply seized. We will now have to have them rechecked under these sorts of conditions to find out exactly what happened."

Arthur Nunn, of Shotley, in Suffolk, was on the two-week cruise but was not among those trapped in the cars. He first learned of the drama when the captain made an announcement yesterday morning.

"He explained what had happened and said that fortunately none of the passengers were seriously hurt," Mr Nunn said of the captain. "He said a few had suffered cuts and bruises but did not need to go to hospital. The captain said the sailing would be delayed for a while and that counselling would be available to anybody who wants it."

Besides the 40 tourists trapped in the cable car, a further 40 were stranded at the top of the mountain until they were airlifted to safety by a helicopter.

Speaking after the rescue operation Mark Ittle, shore excursion director for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, said the tourists were enjoying a cocktail party back aboard the Splendour of the Seas.

"We sent 14 people from the ship to the scene loaded with supplies to try to keep our guests comfortable while they were rescued," he said. "It was a very slow process because the mountain rescue people had to come from quite a long way away but everybody was fine," he said.

"They all eventually rejoined the ship and it set sail for its next port of call, albeit seven-and-a-half hours late."