Zia Khan and Qamar Zaman
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani army commandos and local volunteers have rescued all eight people including six school children trapped mid-air in a broken cable car after 15 hours, officials said on Tuesday.
The dramatic operation that involved helicopters and conventional mountainous rescue techniques had kept the country of more than 240 million on edge the entire day.
The people got trapped at around 7 a.m. when the cable car on which they were crossing a deep ravine between two mountains got stuck after two of its three steel wires broke, local police official Tahir Ayub said.
A rescue operation led by the elite army commandos and involving helicopters lasted for around 11 hours of tense efforts, the military said in a statement.
The helicopters stopped flying when the night fell in the valleys and local volunteers were then given the lead role who reached the trapped victims using ropes and bearings on the remaining steel wire, local rescue official Bilal Faizi said.
“It was indeed a complicated and risky operation. The brave volunteers did a selfless job,” he added.
Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar announced the completion of the operation around 11 p.m. local time.
At least two children were airlifted from the stuck cable car by commandos who reached them via a helicopter using a sling before sunset.
Once the helicopters stopped flying, local volunteers used a smaller cable car to evacuate the remaining passengers one by one.
Television footage showed thousands of people clapping and raising printed slogans when the helicopter brought the first child to safety.
The locals, including relatives, have been gathered under the dangling cable car waiting for a miracle since the morning. They were clinging to hope, especially when the military helicopters arrived around noon (0700 GMT).
Elite commandos began the operation using helicopters, but it was slow going at first. Four helicopters took part in the operation.
Noorul Hadi Ahmed, a local who has been waiting at the scene among hundreds of people including the relatives and parents of the children, said: “It was perhaps the toughest day in the life of mountainous people. Our region has never seen such a thing.”
“It was a normal day even when the Doli or Sanderi, as the cable car is known locally, was stuck. We thought it is going to be OK,” Ahmed said.
“These things happen. Dolis get stuck and the local masons repair them mid-air. But this turned out to be different.”
The commandos made several attempts to reach the trapped passengers and assessed the situation to devise a safe strategy.
The rescue operation, televised live by local media, resembled an action thriller movie scene when a commando hanging from a sling reached the cable car and delivered water and medicines to keep them stable, in the first attempt.
In the fourth attempt, the commandos evacuated the first child in a sling operation. After the children reached safety, they were given first aid and medical care.
A trapped passenger named Gulfraz spoke with Geo TV and said they did not have drinking water and urged the authorities for swift action.
Villagers in northern Pakistan often travel through chairlifts to cross rivers and cut the distance in hilly areas.
These chairlifts are operated privately and are often poorly maintained with no safety measures.
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