Trapped, shaken Mont Blanc cable car passengers brought to safety

CHAMONIX, France (Reuters) - Thirty-three tourists who were trapped overnight in cable cars high above the glaciers of Mont Blanc were brought to safety on Friday morning after technicians repaired tangled cables, the operator said.

A French Gendarmerie rescue helicopter passes in front of the Aiguille du Midi as it takes off near Chamonix during search and rescue operations August 24, 2008. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

Emergency workers had scrambled at first light to rescue the stranded people, who included a child, after the ride jammed at 5.30 p.m. (1530 GMT) on Thursday.

More than 110 people were initially trapped on the 5 km (3 mile) ride between two mountain peaks at an altitude of over 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) when three cables snared.

Four helicopters rescued 65 people from the four-person cable cars before night fell over Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, and dropped emergency blankets and bottles of water for those left stuck.

Another dozen people were evacuated during the night by rescuers using ropes.

One of the last families to be evacuated from the dangling cable cars on Friday morning told Reuters TV how worsening weather on Thursday evening meant they had to spend the night in the freezing cabin.

“We just needed five more minutes to be evacuated but it was too cloudy, they couldn’t do it,” Valery Delisle, who came with his sons from Aix-en-Provence, said outside a cafe at the base of the ride in the French town of Chamonix.

“One blanket between two was not enough, so I got a chill. I threw up. I wasn’t feeling good,” said one of Valery’s sons, Louis, 23.

“But then we got by, we exchanged our coats. So we weren’t scared, but the cold was a big problem, at least for me. The most important thing is that we all got out”, he said.

The family said the cars were not equipped with radios and mobile phones’ batteries quickly ran out.

Louis’ brother Clement, 24, told reporters how they had to shout to a Korean family in the cable car next to theirs to explain to them where to find the blankets.

“We were old enough, we had experience in mountain conditions but for them it was a little bit more complicated with their children, 7 and 9 years old, that worried us,” he said.

In a statement, La Compagnie du Mont Blanc, which runs the cable car, gave no reason for the accident but said the cables could become tangled after an abrupt halt to the system or in strong winds.

Company head Mathieu Dechavanne said the cars stopped because supporting cables and towing cables crossed at three different points.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t untangle the third cable so, as it was getting late, we decided, in accordance with procedure, to call the police helicopter to evacuate as many people as we could before night fell,” he said.

The cable car connects Aiguille du Midi peak on the French side of the mountain and the Helbronner summit on the Italian border. The panoramic ride over glaciers usually takes 30 minutes to complete.

Additional reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon and Miranda Alexander-Webber in Paris; Writing by Richard Lough and Michel Rose; Editing by Richard Balmforth