CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Seven people were injured Saturday when a chairlift malfunctioned at the Sugarloaf ski resort and slid backward several hundred feet, prompting some skiers to jump off, authorities and witnesses said.

Four adults were taken by ambulance to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, but their injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, said a spokesman for Sugarloaf Mountain Resort.

The accident happened shortly after 11:30 a.m. when the King Pine quad lift experienced a “rollback,” meaning that the chairlift traveled backward, Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf’s marketing director, said at a news conference late Saturday afternoon at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel.

More than 200 people were riding the chairlift at the time of the accident, and it rolled back a distance of nine chairs, or about 460 feet, Austin said. Those still on board after the lift was stopped were evacuated by the Sugarloaf Ski Patrol and other personnel by 1:22 p.m. A total of 204 people were evacuated.

The cause of the chairlift malfunction – the second chairlift accident at Sugarloaf in five years – is under investigation. An inspector from the State Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety arrived at Sugarloaf on Saturday afternoon to begin the work, according to Austin.

“Until that investigation is complete, we’re going to refrain from speculation as to the cause,” he said.

Witnesses to the accident described a frightening scene.

“It was really scary,” David Segre, 42, of Falmouth, who was standing in a crowded lift line, told The Associated Press. “It was like a gear had let loose and it was slowly picking up speed going the wrong way.”

“So all the chairs … they were slipping backward. And as gravity works they started to go faster and faster and people were jumping off at the lower levels,” he said.

Segre estimated that the lift went the wrong way for about a minute, traveling about 200 or 300 yards before it stopped. One man who wasn’t able to jump off ended up going around the loading area and heading up the mountain on the other side, he said.

Susan Haws Clifford of Kennebunk said she and her daughter managed to jump off the chairlift unharmed.

“King Pine lift went a little haywire today and started heading backwards,” Clifford said in a Facebook post. “We were about 7 chairs from the loading area, so we had no choice but to jump. We were lucky. Very scary. … Other than that, great ski day.”

The ski patrol responded to Saturday’s accident immediately and first helped the injured riders, Austin said. While some patrol workers were helping the injured riders, others started evacuating the skiers using a rope pull system. Richard Wilkinson, vice president of operations at Sugarloaf, said the ski patrol threw a rope over the cable, hoisted up a seat with a safety belt and then belayed each rider down.

The King Pine quad is a four-passenger monocable that was built in 1988 and manufactured by Borvig, according to Austin. It is located on the eastern side of the mountain and is 3,400 feet long with a vertical rise of 1,074 feet.

The chairlift receives routine daily inspections for safety, Austin said. It also receives weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance and testing, and is inspected annually by the state tramway safety board, he said.

“Our first concern is with the guests who were injured and all of those who were impacted by the incident at the resort today,” Austin said in a statement. “Our staff is working with the Tramway Board on a thorough investigation, and we are committed to understanding the full cause of today’s incident.”

Austin said it was not clear when the chairlift will reopen.

Sugarloaf was the site of another chairlift accident in 2010 in which a 35-year-old lift derailed, injuring eight skiers. The cause of that derailment, on the Spillway East lift, was high winds. Five chairs came off the lift and skiers fell as much 30 feet, but none of the injuries were serious.

When asked at the news conference whether Sugarloaf was concerned about safety perceptions because of the two lift accidents, Austin said:  “Safety is our absolute first concern in everything that we do. We want our guests to enjoy our mountain. We want them to be confident that we can do this safely.”

Mark Di Nola, a ski safety consultant based in Manchester, New Hampshire, said it’s unusual to have two lift accidents of this magnitude in five years, and such a “rollback” is rare in the ski industry, the AP reported.

“The industry is aware of issues involved in the continued use of aging ski lifts, in this case 37 years. Analogous to our country’s aging infrastructure of roads and bridges,” he said in an emailed statement.

Saturday’s accident happened just days before the U.S. Alpine Championships expected to draw big crowds as well as world-class skiers to Sugarloaf.

Maine Sunday Telegram Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.