Helicopters, ziplines and prayers: How a cable car rescue had a happy ending (2023)


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Eight people, including seven students who were on their way to a nearby school, have been rescued after being trapped hundreds of feet above a valley in Pakistan's remote mountains for hours.

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Helicopters, ziplines and prayers: How a cable car rescue had a happy ending (1)

go throughChristina Goldbaum,Zia Ur RahmanySalman Massoud

Christina Goldbaum reported from London; Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi, Pakistan; and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.

It was Tuesday morning, and Usama Sharif, 20 and still in tenth grade, put on his backpack and walked out of his mud-brick hut in a mountainside village in northwestern Pakistan, along a dirt road to the cable car station. He is opposite. Deep mountains and valleys to his school, his father said.

For years, the cable car has provided a lifeline to remote Pashto-speaking villages deep in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, easing the difficult journeys for students to school or sick members of the community to the hospital.

But within a few minutes of the gondola ride, the daily journey through the canyon turns into a disaster. Two cables supporting the car snapped, leaving Sharif and seven other passengers, including several schoolchildren, suspended hundreds of feet in the air.

As the car crumbled, the military team began a dramatic rescue that lasted an exhilarating 12 hours, pulling the pair out of the car by rope attached to a helicopter and then, as night fell, using a zipline to lift the pair out of the car. The rest were taken to one place. safe place. .

The Pakistani military said the operation was "very difficult and exhausting", adding that the "unparalleled skill and efficiency" displayed by rescuers helped bring about a happy ending.

"All the children were successfully rescued safely," Pakistan's acting Prime Minister Anwar Haq Kakar said.post on social mediaNearly 11:00 p.m. local time. He added: "Excellent teamwork from the army, rescue services, regional government and local people."

Cable cars have become a relatively common mode of transport for residents of the northern highlands of Pakistan, and it can take hours to travel several kilometers in a straight line along zig-zag routes, up steep slopes or into deep valleys. The makeshift Pashto system that pervades the Alai Valley is largely typical: a modest car that looks like the weathered hull of a rickshaw, with rusty cables stretching from peak to peak.

Passengers on Tuesday were having an unremarkable journey. Children aged 10 to 15 on board were on their way to a nearby school. But around 8.30am, the car came to a sudden stop, dangling precariously from what appeared to be a single cable.

Residents said passengers and their families panicked when they realized what was happening and they called for emergency help. Authorities dispatched a military helicopter to the scene in the afternoon, and local television showed the helicopter hovering over the cable car while a commando slid down a rope to deliver supplies.

Earlier, a passenger told a local TV station that he and others had been trapped without food or water for more than six hours. A child with a heart attack had passed out, he said. "My phone battery is almost dead," the passenger added.

After many attempts, rescuers finally got the child out. Images on social media showed the boy being led by helicopter to safety on a rope: his silhouette in white salwar kameez, traditional trousers and long shirt swaying under rows of towering green trees below.

For the villagers concerned about rescue, suspense is torture. “They are right in front of us, but we are defenseless: we watch them, but we cannot help them,” Mufti Hasan Zaib, a religious scholar, said in a telephone interview. His family was trapped in the cable car. View from a nearby hillside. .

But as the helicopter got closer, the cable car began to shake violently, making air rescue difficult and terrifying for those trapped. Mufti Ghulamullah, mayor of Alay district, said in a telephone interview: "Every time the helicopter tried to pull the rescuers closer to the cable car, the gust of wind from the rotor would shake the chair lift and make it uncomfortable. Steady, causing children to scream inside gondola. Terrified."

Security services had to suspend helicopter operations as night fell, forcing rescuers to use ziplines, authorities said.


Helicopters, ziplines and prayers: How a cable car rescue had a happy ending (2)

Relatives can only wait. "We know that Allah can save them. We are all praying," Osama Sharif's father, Mohammad Sharif, said in a telephone interview.

At around 11 p.m., after the Pakistani military reported that more children had been rescued, the long-awaited news came: everyone on board had been rescued.

Videos on social media showed the two trapped children wearing seat belts,emerge from the woodsFollow the zipline to a safe place.

"God is great!" cheered the onlookers as the children emerged.

The cause of the cable failure is not yet known. A statement from Prime Minister Kakar's office called the vandalism "appalling" and ordered authorities to conduct safety checks on all private mountain lifts to ensure their safety.

Pashto, a village of about 30,000 people, sits on a hilltop overlooking the Alai Valley in one of the poorest areas in this part of Pakistan. Infrastructure such as healthcare, education, transportation and other necessities of life are missing. valley badly affected2005 earthquakeMore than 80,000 people were killed and more than 100,000 were injured. For decades it was all but cut off from the surrounding cities.


Residents said the nearest hospital was about 90 miles away. To get there, it often involves strapping a patient or woman in labor to a traditional bed, transporting them to the nearest road for three hours, then renting a 4WD for another three hours to the hospital.

"In many cases, people die or women give birth along the way," said Maulana Qasim Mehmood, a local religious leader.

The nearest high school is about four miles away, and until recently, commuting was difficult. It took the students two or three hours to walk down the steep slope from the village, across a small river and up the opposite hillside. Then they have to walk another two kilometers. Even when they arrive, it's not safe to be in classrooms: Teachers rarely come to work, if not at all.

About five years ago, engineers agreed to build a Pashto cable car to help students and others cross the valley, and its construction dramatically changed life in the village, according to Mahmood.

The cable car ride across the valley takes only 10 minutes (costs about 10 cents). According to residents, 400 to 500 people use it to get around today. These locally built, often makeshift lifts are often powered by petrol or diesel engines and are privately owned.

"People are desperate to use these services," Mahmoud said. "It makes people's lives a lot easier."

But cars are notoriously unstable.

In December, in a village about 90 miles from Pashto,Another car's cable snapped, arrested 12 primary school students. The students were trapped inside for about two hours before rescue teams pulled them out.

June, a woman and her 4-month-old sonDrowning after using makeshift cable car in nearby Swat Valley. The mother was taking her son to the hospital when he slipped off her lap and fell into the river, local media reported. She jumped up and ran after him, and both were engulfed in the gushing water.

Stories like this had been whispered in Pashto for years, but residents had no choice but to use the cable car, they said.

The entire village was relieved Tuesday that their life buoys had not turned into death traps as rescuers brought the last person trapped in a car to safety.

"At that moment, we could only find comfort in prayer," said a villager named Jana Zaib, who only goes by one name.

"Now the whole valley is full of joy."

Isabella Kwai contributed reporting from London.

Christina GoldbaumHe is the Afghanistan and Pakistan bureau chief of The Times. More About Christina Goldbaum

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