January 4, 2011

At least 8 injured in derailment

Chairlift jumps track, skiers fall as far as 30 feet to ground

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(This story was originally published December 29, 2010)

click image to enlarge

Skiers await rescue after the Spillway East chairlift derailed, sending riders 30 feet down to the snow below.

Contributed photo by Jack Michaud/Jack Michaud Photography

click image to enlarge

Skiers ride a chair-lift at Sugarloaf after a chair lift derailed in high winds earlier in the day. The derailment at Maine's tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sent skiers plummeting as far as 30 feet to the slope below and injuring several people.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

CARRABASSETT VALLEY -- At least eight people were injured and many more riders were left stranded in frigid temperatures Tuesday when a 35-year-old chairlift at Sugarloaf ski resort derailed in high winds.

A section of rope derailed at about 10:30 a.m. and sent five two-passenger chairs plummeting 30 feet to the slope below, with at least three of those chairs reaching the ground, Sugarloaf officials said.

All injured riders were transported off the mountain by ambulance, according to Brad Larsen, vice president of sales and marketing at Sugarloaf. They were taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington with injuries that are believed to be non life-threatening, he said.

Jerry Cayer, executive vice president of the hospital, said late Tuesday that of the eight injured riders, two were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland -- one by LifeFlight helicopter and one by ambulance. Of the remaining six, one patient had been admitted to the hospital overnight and the other five were still being treated and were expected to be released.

He said five were adults and three were under the age of 18, though not young children.

"Most of the folks here are not local people," Cayer said. "They came up for vacation."

About 150 other riders stranded on the more than 4,000-foot-long chairlift had to be lowered to the ground by ropes, Larsen said. Everyone was evacuated from the lift by 12:30 p.m., he said.

Resort officials declined to comment on the cause of the derailment. An inspector from a state agency that regulates chairlifts is investigating, according to the resort, and will be assisted by Sugarloaf staff and the chairlift's manufacturer, Borvig.

The lift had been listed as a priority for replacement, according to Ethan Austin, a Sugarloaf spokesman. Winds clocking in at 50 miles per hour forced staff to delay opening three chairlifts near the mountain's peak earlier Tuesday, including the derailed lift, Spillway East, which reaches more than 1,450 feet, according to resort officials.

Dave Millar was a passenger on the lift above the derailment, and his 11-year-old son, Robbie, was several chairs behind with a family friend.

There was "a little jerk" before the lift came to a halt, followed shortly by the ski patrol passing below and shouting that there had been a derailment, said Millar, 42, of Freeport.

"I'm OK and he's not; it was scary," Millar said, referring to his first thoughts.

After frantically trying and failing to reach his son on a cell phone, he caught a glimpse of Robbie's bright yellow jacket being lowered from a chair that had been blocked from view.

"Thank God we were alright," Millar said.

The ski patrol evacuated Robbie's chair within 30 minutes because the friend shouted out that he was in distress, according to Millar, who was in a chair near the top. Millar said he waited nearly two hours while being whipped by freezing wind gusts.

 

LIFT INSPECTION

Safety and maintenance staff decided to open Spillway East at 9:55 a.m. due to a "significant" drop in the wind, said Richard Wilkinson, vice president of mountain operations. He declined to say how much winds dropped, saying the decision to open chairlifts is a judgment of the conditions based on safety standards set by the mountain.

The other two chairlifts were not open at the time of the derailment, Wilkinson said.

Spillway East passed its annual inspection by the State of Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety in October, Larsen said. It was also inspected by Sugarloaf staff Tuesday morning as part of daily safety checks by the resort, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Sugarloaf representatives, from left to right, Brad Larsen, vice president of sales and marketing, Richard Wilkinson, vice president of mountain operations, and John Diller, general manager, hold a press conference at Sugarloaf Tuesday afternoon. A chairlift derailed in high winds at Maine's tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sending skiers plummeting as far as 30 feet to the slope below and injuring several people.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Skiers ride a chairlift Tuesday afternoon at Sugarloaf. A lift derailed in high winds at Maine’s tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sending skiers plummeting as far as 30 feet to the slope below and injuring several people.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

A skier rides on a chairlift Tuesday afternoon at Sugarloaf. A lift derailed in high winds at Maine’s tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sending skiers plummeting as far as 30 feet to the slope below and injuring several people.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

A skier attempts to recover after the cable derailed, sending riders plummeting to the ground. At least eight people were injured.

Contributed photo by Jack Michaud/Jack Michaud Photography

click image to enlarge

Chairs on the Spillway East chairlift at Sugarloaf rest in the snow after falling as far as 30 feet after the cable derailed Tuesday. The derailment at Maine's tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sent skiers and snowboarders to the ground, injuring at least eight people.

Contributed photo by Jack Michaud/Jack Michaud Photography

 


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