Cable car collision injures five in Scotland

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The Independent Online

Five people were injured and 75 stranded when a cable car packed with tourists derailed and collided with another half way up a mountain near Fort William yesterday. A car slipped its clasp and slid back down the cable, smashing into another. One crashed to the ground, some passengers being thrown out.

Investigators are trying to establish exactly how the gondola separated from the line 1,500ft from the top of Aonach Mor, in the Nevis Range ski resort in north-west Scotland.

The injured were treated at the scene then airlifted by mountain rescue helicopters to hospital. Initial reports from RAF mountain rescue teams suggested some had broken limbs and head injuries. But all were conscious when paramedics reached them and none was said to have life-threatening injuries. One of the injured was said to be a child. Last night, rescuers were trying to bring the stranded tourists down. Twenty-five were marooned in gondolas halted along the cable, and 50 others were waiting for help on the 2,150ft peak of Aonach Mor, the eighth highest mountain in Britain. The gondola ride was built to ferry skiers up the north face of Aonach Mor. In the summer, it is popular with walkers, mountain bikers and tourists, who come to take in the breathtaking Highland scenery. The 1.4-mile journey to the top takes up to 15 minutes and at times is at a 45-degree angle to the side of the mountain.

One local mountain expert from Fort William who was at the scene of the rescue, said that the 2.8 mile continuous cable, which weighs 40 tons, had been replaced this year.

Each of the 80 gondolas on the system can hold six people and at the system's peak, a maximum 1,700 passengers per hour can be transported. The cable and the gondolas are supported between 18 pylons, two masts, and two drive station structures, each of them anchored in 200 tons of concrete.

The local man, who declined to be named, said that the cable car had a good safety record. "The cable is new; they put a new one on this year. I've been here seven years, the place has been open 12 years and there certainly haven't been any accidents since I've been here."

European cable cars have been hit by several tragic accidents in recent years. In September 2005, nine skiers, including six children, died when heavy equipment fell off a helicopter on to a ski lift, sending it plunging 100ft in the Austrian Alps. In 1998, a low-flying Nato jet severed a gondola cable, in the Italian Alps killing 20 people.

A spokesman for the Nevis Range resort said: "A full investigation into the cause of the derail will follow."