Chamonix, we have a problem

Mont Blanc Cable Car Passengers Are Stranded Aloft Overnight in French Alps

CHAMONIX — Thirty-three passengers were stranded overnight on Thursday in high-altitude cable cars in the French Alps after helicopters were used to rescue 65 others who had been trapped, officials said.

The daring rescue was unfolding at an altitude of nearly 12,500 feet in the Mont Blanc massif near Chamonix after the cars came to a halt around 2 p.m. between the Aiguille du Midi in France and Pointe Helbronner in Italy.

A 10-year-old boy was among those stranded, according to Georges-François Leclerc, the prefect of Haute-Savoie, who spoke at a news conference.

“We had to stop the rescuing operations when the night came because the helicopters can’t do the rescuing operation when it is dark,” Floriane Macian, a spokeswoman for the prefecture, said in a telephone interview. 

 

A dozen passengers were evacuated by an Italian rescue team. That part of the operation was not done by helicopter because the cable car was close enough to the ground, according to Mathieu Dechavanne, the chief executive of the company that manages the cable cars.

The rescue effort resumed Friday morning.

The cars stopped because supporting cables and towing cables crossed in several places.

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“We managed to uncross the cables in two places by pulling them, but we did not manage to uncross them in the third one,” Mr. Dechavanne said in a phone interview.

Mr. Dechavanne said he had called the rescue services at 5 p.m. to start evacuating the passengers.

“We had to do it by helicopter and not vertically like we can do it in other places, because the ground underneath is of a glacial type so there is a risk of crevasses and it could lead to accidents,” he said.

The Daily Express, a British newspaper, reported that rescuers had harnessed themselves to the cables and climbed along to the cars and dropping down through hatches.

Five rescue workers were remaining with some of the passengers, and the temperature was expected to drop to 32 degrees overnight. The passengers were given food and blankets.

“They have a survival kit in each of the cable cars with cereals bars, water and survival blankets, and we contacted them by phone to explain everything,” Mr. Dechavanne said. “Only two of the cable cars don’t have rescue workers with them, they have the survival kit.”

The cable cars can usually carry up to 140 people, who often come to enjoy the view on the mountains at this time of the year in Chamonix. The ride takes 30 minutes.

A passenger who was evacuated told The Express that he and his family had been trapped for hours. “It was me, my daughter and my son,” Frédéric Maurer, 49, said. “We were two and a half hours in the cab locked under the sun.”

The cable car company said its Aiguille du Midi cable car holds the world record for the highest vertical ascent: 2,807 meters, or 9,209 feet.