An experts’ team from Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) has been called in to rescue eight people, including six school children, who were left stranded mid-air after the cable of a chairlift broke down in Allai Tehsil in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Battagram district on Tuesday.
An army helicopter has also arrived at the site to carry out rescue operation and is currently conducting reconnaissance before initiating the sling operation.
“A chairlift stuck at a height of about 900 ft midway due to breakage in one of its cable in Battagram. 8 persons including 6 children [are] stranded,” the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.
The statement said NDMA has provided coordination support to Provincial Disaster Mangaement Authority (PDMA).
“After coordination Pak Army helicopter has been despatched for [the] rescue operation,” it added.
The incident was confirmed by Mansehra Deputy Inspector General of Police Tahir Ayub who said there is no option but to rescue the stranded passengers through a copter.
The cable hangs in the middle of a deep ravine surrounded by stunning mountains, where cable cars are frequently used to connect remote villages and towns.
Syed Hammad Haider, a senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial official, said the cable car was hanging about 1,000 to 1,200 feet above the ground.
“We have requested the KP government to provide a helicopter because the relief activity is not possible without the help of a helicopter,” he said.
‘Passengers stuck for several hours’
Gulfaraz, a 20-year-old who is currently present on the chairlift, told Geo News over phone that he and other passengers have been stuck for more than six hours.
He shared that a 16-year-old passenger, who suffers from a heart condition, has been unconscious for the last three hours. Gulfraz shared that the teenager was going to the hospital through the chairlift.
“We don’t even have drinking water in the chairlift,” he complained.
Gulfaraz said the first wire broke at 7am while another cable broke down soon after.
“The first cable broke down after the chairlift travelled a mile,” the 20-year-old said, adding that the passengers have been waiting for help since early morning.
Gulfaraz confirmed that there are eight people in the chairlift of which six are students.
The ages of students are between 10 to 16 years old, he said.
Chairlift located at 2 thousand meters
According to details released by PDMA, the chairlift incident occurred at 8:30am in Pashto area of Battagram.
The chairlift is located at a height of about two thousand meters and passes through rainwater channel in the middle of the mountains, the PDMA added.
The children, who have been stranded, were using the chair lift to get to school in the mountainous area of Battagram.
Sonia Shamrose, the district police officer, told Geo News that all efforts were being made to rescue the people trapped in the chairlift.
Zafar Iqbal, a school teacher, said that the students were coming to the school by the chairlift.
“The chairlift is used to go from one place to another. In this area, 150 children come to school by chairlift,” he said, confirming that two wires of the cable car broke down mid-air.
Caretaker PM orders inspection of all chairlifts
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has termed the incident alarming, directing the NDMA and PDMA to “urgently ensure safe rescue and evacuation of the 8 people stuck in the chairlift”.
“I have also directed the authorities to conduct safety inspections of all such private chairlifts and ensure that they are safe to operate and use,” he added.
Faisal Karim Kundi, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader, has sought help requesting caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, interim Chief Minister KP Muhammad Azam Khan and Information Minister Feroze Jamal to take immediate action.
A former pilot Syed Jawad told Geo News that the Pakistan Army Aviation is equipped to deal with the situation and has previously conducted rescue operations.
He added that the problem in today’s operation is that the Out of Ground Effect (OGE) will be conducted here, which is a very difficult process.
However, he added, that two of the military’s choppers are equipped to handle such an operation.
“The operation is conducted through the rope, which we refer to as sling operation,” he said.
Jawad said the passengers can be rescued by throwing the rope at the stranded passengers, so they could tie themselves with it and get pulled up slowly, while another way to rescue, he said, is through the hoist during which the passengers are pulled up through a seat which is descended into the affected carrier for them to sit in it.
The former pilot said that the weight of the passengers and chopper’s fuel while its hovers mid-air are crucial when assessing the rescue operation’s success.
“It can be a risky affair,” he added.