UPDATE: Pakistani rescuers pulled eight people, including six children, to safety after their cable car became stranded high over a remote ravine on Tuesday, ending an ordeal that lasted more than 15 hours.
The high-risk operation in a mountainous region of north Pakistan was completed in the darkness of night after the cable car snagged early in the morning, leaving it hanging from a single rope at an angle all day. The initial helicopter rescue mission was abandoned as the light faded and the rescue was completed in a ground-based operation, Reuters reported.
“It was a unique operation that required lots of skill,” the military said in a statement.
“All the kids have been successfully and safely rescued,” caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said in a post on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Great team work by the military, rescue departments, district administration as well as the local people.”
ORIGINAL: A high-stakes rescue mission is underway in a remote part of Pakistan Tuesday after six children and two adults were stranded in a cable car dangling high above a ravine.
The children and adults were on their way to a school in the mountainous Battagram district when one of the lines of the cable car system snapped, leaving them suspended by a single rope about 275 metres in the air.
Rescue attempts by military commandos in helicopters have been hampered by strong winds in the river canyon, made worse by the wind created by the helicopters’ blades. Photos and videos from the scene showed soldiers descending on ropes from a helicopter, attempting to reach the cable car.
The group has been stranded since 7 a.m. local time (10 p.m. Eastern). At around 7 p.m. local time, about 12 hours into the group’s ordeal, officials gave word that the first rescues had been made.
Four children have been successfully retrieved from the cable car, one by one, rescuers told Reuters. Officials are still working to save the remaining two children and two adults on board.
Television footage showed one child being lifted off the cable car by a helicopter in a harness and then carried to the ground.
The BBC reported that one of the boys trapped in the cable car has a heart condition and fell unconscious hours into the ordeal. It’s unknown if this boy was among the four children rescued thus far.
“Our situation is precarious. For God’s sake, do something,” Gulfaraz, a 20-year-old on the cable car, told local television channel Geo News over the phone, appealing to authorities to rescue them as soon as possible. He said the children were aged between 10 and 15.
Crowds of villagers gathered on the hillside anxiously watching the operation unfold alongside relatives of those trapped. The rescue has also transfixed Pakistanis across the country who crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals.
According to Pakistani TV stations, some of those trapped were in contact with their families by cellphone.
Travelling by cable car in Pakistan’s mountainous regions is not uncommon. But the cars are often poorly maintained and every year people die or are injured while travelling in them.
According to Taimoor Khan, a spokesman for the disaster management authority, helicopters were sent to rescue the group after they had already been trapped for six hours.
Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he ordered authorities “to urgently ensure safe rescue and evacuation of the 8 people.”
“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 said.
In 2017, 10 people were killed when a cable car fell into a ravine hundreds of metres deep in the popular mountain resort of Murree after its cable broke.
— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press