All 21 people aboard two aerial tram cars in New Mexico have been rescued after the cars became stuck 85 feet in the air because of iced-over cables, leaving passengers to spend the last hours of 2021 and first of 2022 waiting for help.
The incident occurred at the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque as temperatures reached below freezing on Friday night. Bernalillo County Fire Department Deputy Chief of Operations Brian Rose said in a Saturday news conference they received a call around 2 a.m. on Saturday about the stranded tram cars.
Lt. Robert Arguellas, spokesperson for the fire department, told the Associated Press 20 of the people in one of the tram cars were workers from the mountaintop restaurant and the tram system. They were headed down the base of the mountain after their shifts had ended. The other tram car had one tramway employee who was headed up the mountain for an overnight security shift.
Brian Coon, a tramway system manager, told KOB-TV there was an unusually fast accumulation of ice on one of the cables that made it droop below the tram.
Colleen Elvidge, one of the stranded passengers, posted photos of the inside the tram car in a Saturday morning Facebook post and said they had been stranded since 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Search and rescue workers arrived on the scene in the morning and first handed the passengers blankets, food and water before rescue efforts began around 1:45 p.m. ET, Arguellas said.
To rescue the 20 people in the one car, Arguellas said operators were able to move it to a nearby support tower more than halfway up the mountain.
Search and rescue personnel used ropes and other equipment to lower the stranded employees to the ground before escorting them to a nearby landing zone in the steep and rocky terrain where the tower was located, and the tram was cleared by 6 p.m. ET. The 20 people were then ferried by helicopter several at a time to the base of the mountains.
Arguellas said the second car with the one employee aboard was farther up the mountain and at a location where the car was too high to lower people by ropes. Winds and low visibility were also plaguing rescue workers. He said the tram system was able to inch the second car down the cable to the rescue site at the support tower, and rescuers then used ropes to lower the remaining person an hour later.
“What an incredible effort by all involved,” the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.
“Happy New Year, everyone is safe and we are grateful for the positive outcome,” the department said.
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