PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Eight people who got trapped in a disabled cable car dangling high above a valley in Pakistan returned safely to the ground Tuesday after military commandos staged a daring and delicate rescue using helicopters and a makeshift chairlift.
The daylong ordeal began when six children got into the gondola for a trip to school. Two adults were with them. But then a cable snapped, bringing the car to a halt and trapping the group in midair. They were helpless, suspended hundreds of meters (feet) above a remote, mountainous landscape.
Six hours passed before a helicopter arrived. When the rescues began at last, at least one child who was plucked out of the car could be seen in video footage hanging at the end of a cable as he was winched up to the aircraft.
But the choppers also added an element of danger. The air currents churned up by the whirling blades risked weakening the only cable holding the car aloft and preventing it from crashing to the bottom of the river canyon in the Battagram district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Because helicopters could not fly after sunset, rescuers eventually shifted from an airborne effort to a risky operation that involved using one cable that was still intact to approach the car with the improvised chairlift.
Slowly, all eight people were brought down. Video from the final rescues showed a handful of people hanging from a cable as they were pulled to safety through a stand of trees to a waiting crowd.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar congratulated the military and other rescuers for the success. The drama transfixed the country for hours as Pakistanis crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals.
“Relieved to know that ... all the kids have been successfully and safely rescued,” Kakar said on X, the service formerly known as Twitter. “Great team work by the military, rescue departments, district administration as well as the local people."
In a statement, the military said the rescue involved the commandos, pilots from the army and air force and the support of local authorities.
As the children were handed over to their families, most burst into tears, said Nazir Ahmed, a senior police officer.
“Everyone was praying for this moment,” he said. He said villagers hugged the commandos and other rescuers.
According to Pakistani TV stations, some of those trapped were in contact with their families by cellphone. Authorities said the two adults were consoling the children, who were between 11 and 15 years old.
Food and water were supplied to the car earlier in the day, said Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for the state-run emergency service.
Villagers frequently use cable cars to get around Pakistan’s mountainous regions. But the cars are often poorly maintained, and every year people die or are injured while traveling in them.
Kakar said he ordered safety inspections of the country’s cable cars and chairlifts.
While awaiting help, the group hung precariously 350 meters (1,150 feet) above ground, according to Taimoor Khan, a spokesman for the disaster management authority.
In 2017, 10 people were killed when a cable car fell into a ravine hundreds of meters (feet) deep in the popular mountain resort of Murree after its cable broke.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.