PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Army commandos used helicopters and a makeshift chairlift to rescue eight people from a broken cable car dangling hundreds of meters (feet) above a ravine in a remote part of Pakistan on Tuesday.
The six children and two adults were trapped earlier in the day when one of the cables snapped as passengers were crossing a river gorge in Battagram district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The children were on their way to school.
Acting Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar congratulated the military and other rescuers on the success. The dramatic action kept the country in suspense for hours as Pakistanis crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals.
“I’m relieved to know that … all the children were successfully and safely rescued,” Kakar said on X, the service formerly known as Twitter. “Great teamwork from the military, rescue services, district administration and local people.
Eventually, with helicopters unable to fly after sunset, rescuers switched from an aerial operation to a risky one, using a cable that was still intact to approach the car via chairlift.
Footage from TV stations showed a child being carried to safety in a harness. You could see the commandos’ rope swaying in the wind against the mountainous landscape.
One expert described the helicopter rescue as extremely delicate, as wind generated by the helicopter’s rotor blades could further weaken the remaining ropes holding the car aloft.
When the rescued children were handed over to their families, most broke down in tears, said Nazir Ahmed, a senior police official who was present in the area where the air and ground rescue mission was launched.
“Everyone has been praying for this moment,” he said.
The car was supplied with food and water earlier in the day, said Bilal Faizi, a spokesman for the state emergency services.
According to Pakistani television stations, some of those trapped had contact with their families via mobile phone. Authorities said the two adults comforted the children, aged between 11 and 15.
Villagers often use cable cars to get around in the mountainous regions of Pakistan. But the cars are often poorly maintained and every year they die or are injured while driving them.
Kakar said he has ordered safety inspections of the country’s cable cars and chairlifts.
According to Taimoor Khan, a spokesman for the Disaster Management Agency, helicopters were sent to try to get the people off the cable car, but only after the group had been hanging dangerously 350 meters above the ground for six hours.
Several helicopters hovered over the scene of the accident and ambulances gathered on the ground.
Tipu Sultan, a retired brigadier general and defense expert, warned that the helicopters themselves could make the situation worse, but commandos are well aware of the danger.
In 2017, ten people died in the popular mountain resort of Murree when a cable car plunged into a gorge hundreds of meters deep after its rope snapped.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.