Six children and two adults were suspended inside a cable car dangling over a deep valley in Pakistan for several hours on Tuesday, as a military helicopter hovered nearby.
The children were using the chairlift to cross the valley to get to school when a cable broke at a height of up to 1,200 feet (about 365 metres) midway through its journey in a remote, mountainous part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“For God’s sake help us,” Gulfraz, a man stuck in the cable car, told Pakistan television channel Geo News by phone, confirming eight people were on board.
“It has been nearly five hours since we are stuck mid-air. The situation is so bad that one man has already fainted. A helicopter arrived, but left without conducting any operations.”
The incident happened around 7:00 am local time, with residents using mosque loudspeakers to alert neighbourhood officials across the Allai valley.
Anxious crowds have gathered on both sides of the ravine, which is several hours from the nearest main town.
“The cable car is suspended by a single rope. There are a minimum of eight occupants primarily consisting of schoolchildren,” Abdul Basit Khan, a senior official for the provincial rescue agency, told AFP.
Images broadcast on television show a Pakistan Army helicopter circulating near the gondola hanging over a deep ravine and surrounded by lush green mountains.
“The cable car is stuck in a place where it is almost impossible to help without a helicopter,” Zulfiqar Khan, an official with Pakistan’s 1122 rescue service, told AFP.
– ‘What can they do?’ –
Headmaster Ali Asghar Khan told AFP by phone that the children were teenage boys and students of his government high school Battangi Pashto.
“The school is located in a mountainous area and there are no safe crossings, so it’s common to use the chairlift,” Khan said.
“The parents are gathered at the site of the chairlift. What can they do? They are waiting for the rescue officials to get their children out. We are all worried.” Abid Ur Rehman, a teacher from a different school in the area, said around 500 people have gathered to watch the rescue mission.
“The scenes here are filled with intense emotions, parents and women are crying for the safety of their children,” he told AFP.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar issued a directive for all chairlifts in mountainous areas to be inspected and to immediately close those that are not “safety compliant”.
The National Disaster Management Agency said in a statement that six children and two adults were on board the cable car at a height of at least 900 feet.
Syed Hammad Haider, a senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial official, said it 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.
Cable cars that carry passengers and sometimes cars are common across the northern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan and are vital in connecting villages and towns in areas where roads cannot be built.