Efforts to free trapped, injured skiers under way at Maine resort

Dec 28, 2010

Kingfield, Maine (CNN) -- At least 200 people were trapped and several others injured Tuesday after a ski lift broke down at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine, causing several skiers to fall to the ground, a resort manager said.

Robb Atkinson, a CNN employee who was initially also trapped on the lift, said several people fell from the lift when it came to an abrupt stop during high winds.

"I felt a jerk," said Atkinson, who was riding the lift with his wife. He also described hearing "screams from skiers below" as he watched at least three chairs drop 20 to 30 feet to the ground.

Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf spokesman, said the derailment on one tower of the Spillway East lift happened around 10:30 a.m. ET, when the cable skipped over the edge of the pulley. Five of the lift's chairs hit the ground, falling 25 to 30 feet, he said.

Six people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, the resort said in a statement. None of the injuries is believed to be life-threatening, according to Austin.

High winds are gusting between 30 and 50 mph in the area, according to CNN Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras, and temperatures at the resort are well below freezing.

Austin said Tuesday afternoon there are an estimated 220 people and more than 100 chairs on the lift, and the process of evacuating everyone from the chairs dangling above the resort was under way.

"You had to slide off the chair lift 40 feet off the ground into a swing," Atkinson said. After that, skiers were lowered down to the ground and had to ski to the base of the mountain, he said.

Franklin County Emergency officials contacted Gov. John Balducci with updates on the incident and subsequent rescues, according to David Farmer, Balducci's deputy chief of staff.

Two inspectors with the Maine Safety Board were sent to Sugarloaf to investigate, said Farmer. The probe is "protocol for any accident where the state government oversees certification of a ski resort," he added.

The resort is located about 100 miles north of Portland, Maine.



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