Wind a factor in lift accident

High wind was a primary factor in a chair lift collapse at a Maine ski area that sent skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet (7 to 9 metres), injuring eight and trapping others for more than an hour, the resort said Wednesday.

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine — High wind was a primary factor in a chair lift collapse at a Maine ski area that sent skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet (7 to 9 metres), injuring eight and trapping others for more than an hour, the resort said Wednesday.

Inspectors from the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety made the preliminary findings, said Ethan Austin, a spokesman for the Sugarloaf resort. The investigators weren’t available for comment, an agency spokesman said.

Austin did not say whether mechanical difficulties were also an issue. The lift, which recently passed an inspection, was due to be replaced, possibly next summer, and was known to be vulnerable to wind, the resort said Tuesday.

At least two skiers said a Sugarloaf worker was atop the tower where the lift’s cable derailed, though that could have been a coincidence. The lift was properly licensed and inspected for 2010, said Doug Dunbar of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Before the accident Tuesday, the damaged lift and two others started the day on a “wind hold” because of the blustery weather, but Sugarloaf officials later deemed it safe to operate before the accident at 10:30 a.m., Austin said. Guidelines for wind holds include wind speed and other factors, he said.

Wind gusts of 65 km/h were reported around Sugarloaf before the accident on the lift, which was built in 1975.

and set for upgrades or replacement. But one skier who fell the 25 to 30 feet to the new-fallen snow below said she didn’t remember it being exceptionally windy.

“Maybe it was a small factor, but I don’t think that it was a giant factor because I know the mountain wouldn’t have opened the lift if it wasn’t safe,” Rebecca London told ABC television.

“And I also have been on that chair lift in higher winds,” she told ABC. “I don’t remember it being outrageously high winds yesterday.”

It’s unclear when the investigation will be finished, Austin said. “But pending further investigation, they’ve determined that wind was a primary factor,” he said.

Eight people, including three children, were taken to hospitals after the double-chair lift derailed at the resort 120 miles (200 kilometres) north of Portland. Five chairs fell to the ground, and dozens of skiers were stuck on the crippled lift for more than an hour until the ski patrol could get them down.

The lift is 4,013 feet (1,223 metres) long, gains 1,454 feet (443 metres) of elevation and nearly reaches the summit of 4,327-foot (1,319-meter) Sugarloaf, the state’s second-tallest mountain.

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