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Dec 28, 2010

Six people suffered non-life-threatening injuries in a chairlift accident this morning at the Sugarloaf Mountain ski resort in Maine, the resort said in a statement.

The accident happened at about 10:30 a.m. when the Spillway East chairlift derailed from the lift's eighth tower. Five chairs on the lift fell 25 to 30 feet to the ground, the resort said.

The injured skiers were treated and were being transported to a local hospital. At the time of the accident, there were 220 people dangling on the lift in the frigid winds.

The ski patrol responded to the resort and evacuated the people from the lift, the resort said in a statement at 1 p.m.

The resort said the cause of the incident was under investigation.

Eighteen-year-old Ben Simms, a senior at Harriton Senior High School in Rosemont, Pa., was on the lift when a chair above him derailed.

“I was on the lift with someone who works at Sugarloaf. [The chair] bounced up and down, and [the employee] said that a car might have derailed.”

It was the beginning of an almost two-hour ordeal, in which Simms sat on the lift, freezing and waiting to be rescued.

“They rescue people depending on where on the lift was the coldest,” which is higher up, Simms said in a telephone interview, explaining that his car was near the fourth tower.

Rescuers finally came. Simms attached himself to a pulley system that gradually lowered him to the ground.

Simms, who learned to ski at Sugarloaf starting at age two, said nothing like this has ever happened to him.

“Chair lifts stop a lot,” he said, adding that it had stopped once before the derailment. “But after the second time it stopped and my chair bounced, [I knew] something was wrong.”

The two-passenger lift was manufactured and installed in 1975 and modified in 1983. It carries 162 chairs, each weighing 140 pounds. The lift is powered by a 250-horsepower motor. It is inspected daily and receives weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance and testing, as well as an annual inspection by the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety, the resort said.

The Carrabassett Valley resort said it was concerned for those involved and expressed gratitude to safety personnel who responded.

"Sugarloaf Mountain is absolutely committed to the safety of its guests and employees," the resort said in a statement.



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