Some 110 people became trapped onboard a series of cable cars in the French Alps on Thursday, prompting a helicopter rescue operation that continued late into the evening.
The cable cars connect Aiguille du Midi on the French side of the mountains with Pointe Helbronner on the Italian border, where the rescued passengers were taken.
“We succeeded in very difficult conditions, in evacuating 60 people in an hour and a half,” prefect of the Haute-Savoie region, Georges-Francois Leclerc said.
Chamonix Mayor Eric Fournier said that “there’s nothing fundamentally to fear.” Fournier, who spoke to private French broadcaster “BFM-TV,” said that Italian authorities were also helping with the rescue.
As night fell and weather conditions deteriorated, the operation was suspended, leaving some 50 passengers suspended above the glaciers of Mont Blanc.
Leclerc did not say whether the tourists remaining in the cable cars would have to spend the entire night up there. A press conference was scheduled for 10:30pm local time (2030 UTC) at Chamonix city hall.
It was not immediately clear what caused the cable cars to stop. Mathieu Dechavanne, CEO of the company that manages the cable cars, told French News Agency AFP, however, that the cables came to a standstill after cables became crossed for “unknown reasons” around 4 p.m. local time (1400 UTC) and employees of the Mont-Blanc Company were unable to repair them.
The cable cars on the Mont Blanc range offer spectacular up-close views of Western Europe’s tallest mountains, glaciers and steep valleys deep below. The Vallee Blanche Cable Car is operated in the summer season, when large numbers of climbers and tourists converge on the area.
Another series of cable cars takes skiers and visitors to the peak of the Aiguille de Midi year-round.
ksb/xx (AFP, AP)