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Seven people were injured when a ski lift failed at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine Saturday morning, carrying passengers backwards in a virtual free-fall.
Hank Margolis is a salesman from Marlboro, Massachusetts, who confidently snowboards and skis Sugarloaf every weekend he can.
But Saturday, as he rode up on a packed four-person chair lift called King Pine, the lift abruptly stopped. Then it began to move the wrong way, and people started screaming.
“It was horrifying. It was like being on a zipline, but completely out of control. And I realized that there’s a couple hundred people ahead of me, thousands of pounds of weight, all propelling the lift backwards and apparently no way to stop it,” Margolis said.
Resort officials said the lift’s cable rolled back 460 feet – nine chairs worth. Margolis’ chair stopped before going back through the bottom of the lift. But not everyone had that luck.
"People were starting to jump off. There’s a bullwheel — a pulley at the bottom of the lift — and people were being propelled down toward that pulley and people were trying to jump off that and get off before they spun around," he said. "The people that were not fortunate enough to get off got ejected from their chairs going backwards and it looked like two of the people in that situation were severely injured. They were non-responsive and laying on the ground.”
At least one chair smashed into a lift tower, according to multiple witnesses. A resort spokesman says seven people were injured but that none appeared to suffer life-threatening injuries. Four were transported to the nearest hospital. Some 200 others, including Margolis, were stranded above the snow for as long as two hours before resort staffers were able to belay them down with ropes and harnesses.
It’s unfortunately a familiar situation for Sugarloaf. In 2010, part of another lift went down, injuring eight, including one man who suffered a broken back and brain trauma. Resort spokesman Ethan Austin said the lift that failed Saturday, constructed in 1988, was inspected that morning – and that all the resort’s lifts are inspected daily.
“Safety is our absolute first concern in everything that we do. We want our guests to enjoy our mountain," Austin said. "We want them to be confident that they can do it safely so ensuring that they continue to have that faith in us is paramount to our operation.”
Austin said, "there are multiple redundant systems that are designed to prevent a lift from rolling back," adding that "part of the investigation is to determine why not all of those worked as they were supposed to.”
The King Pine lift remained closed while resort and state safety officials investigated the accident. The rest of the lifts stayed open through the day, including one, called Timberline, that’s the same make and year as the one that failed.
This segment aired on March 22, 2015.
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