Around 110 passengers were trapped on the panoramic gondola yesterday at the top of the Aiguille du Midi. Most people were airlifted to safety by helicopter, but 33 people had to spend the night, suspended above the glaciers.
The Panoramic gondola which links Chamonix's most popular attraction the Aiguille du Midi, with the Point Helbronner on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif has been restarted at just before 8am to allow the remaining 33 people to be taken to safety.
In a press release this morning, Comapgnie du Mont Blanc said:
"As a result of the cables being crossed in the three areas along the 5km of the Panoramic Mont-Blanc gondola linking the Aiguille du Midi (F) to the Pointe Helbronner (I), 110 persons were blocked in the cabins.
“Crossed cables” is when the haulage cable crosses the cable on which the cabins are suspended. This may happen in the event of a sudden stop during the trip or strong gusty winds.
A procedure to uncross the cables exists which was immediately put into operation as soon as the problem was discovered.
Two of the crossed cables were successfully unknotted but, unfortunately, the third knot could not be unraveled within a reasonable delay.
Due to the compulsory delays to launch rescue procedures, at 17h 00 the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc decided to call on the resources of the mountain rescue teams.
4 helicopters (2 belonging to the PGHM (police mountain rescue forces), 1 private helicopter (CMBH) & 1 Italian helicopter) were mobilized, commanded by the Colonel of the French Mountain Gendarmerie under the coordination of the Préfet de Haute Savoie, (government representative).
The airborne rescue effort had to be interrupted at nightfall after the evacuation of 65 persons. 12 additional persons were able to be evacuated by the Italian rescue services in the lowest sector of the gondola at 00h 00.
The rescue operations will begin again at sunrise to evacuate the 33 persons still blocked in the cabins."
Rescue teams were originally called in at 17:00 yesterday afternoon, after technicians were unable to untangle all the cables. Some people were taken over to the Helbronner and some airlifted by helicopter. As of 07:45 this morning the gondola cables have been untangled and the remaining passengers will be brought back to safety.
09:30 update: All passengers have now been safely evacuated and brought back safely to Chamonix.
The Panoramic gondola will remained closed whilst a technical investigation takes place. The gondola is set to close for the summer on 25th September so we'll have to wait and see if it re-opens before then.
Watch footage of some of the trapped people being helicoptered from the cabins; courtesy of the PGHM.