A chairlift malfunction at Carrbassett Valley caused injuries to seven people at about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday at Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain ski resort. Three of the injured were taken in ambulances to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, about 40 miles away, for treatment, although some reports say there were four that were treated at the hospital. There were no critical injuries among any of the seven.
The King Pine quad lift stopped on its way up the hill and then started to move backwards. Gravity took over, causing the lift to move faster. It was estimated that the lift moved backwards for approximately one minute and went 200 – 300 yards. People were jumping off the chairlift out of fear as they reached lower, safer levels, and those were the ones who sustained injuries. People were screaming and the scene was described as mayhem. Anyone injured jumping off the lift was treated by ski patrol and then taken down the mountain to emergency medical responders.
Some people said they jumped for fear the entire lift would come down. No one had any idea what was happening. It appeared as if people may have been hit by other chairs or ski poles when the lift flew backward.
It took two hours to evacuate 230 people from the chairlift. Safety personnel and ski patrol units used a pulley system to rescue the stranded skiers. One person who was unable to jump off the lift was able to go toward the loading area and went back up the mountain on the other side. One skier, Hank Margolis, said, “…you were being accelerated essentially into a building.” Margolis, his wife and some friends were stuck on the lift waiting to be rescued for about two hours.
Skiers were impressed with how calm the ski patrol remained throughout the rescue mission. A witness on the scene said there could be up to 50 people injured. There were ten ambulances at the scene. One woman and her daughter described being able to jump off the rapidly accelerating chairlift after unbinding their skis.
Sugarloaf Mountain had a chairlift accident in 2010, when the 35-year-old lift derailed and five chairs fell 25-30 feet into the snow. Eight people were injured in the accident, and Sugarloaf replaced the lift in 2011.
All chair lifts go through daily inspections for safety precautions as well as weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance, including the 3,400-foot King Pine quad lift, which has a vertical height of 1,074 feet. On Oct. 29, 2015, the lift passed its state inspection. The State Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety also inspects all lifts yearly. It is presently unknown what caused this accident.
The King Pine quad chairlift was built-in 1988 and has 122 chairs. The lift is closed down pending investigation and necessary repairs. The accident is being investigated by the Tramway Board and the Sugarloaf staff. It is imperative that there is a complete understanding of the accident. Sugarloaf officials said the incident is called a “rollback” and the chairlift went about 450 feet backwards.
By Jeanette Smith
Photo Courtesy of Will Payne – Flickr License