Joined: May 08, 2005 Posts: 1078 Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posted: Tue Sep 06, 2005 12:06 am Post subject: Tragic Accident in Austria
Nine dead as concrete falls on cable car
AT LEAST nine people, six of them children, died yesterday when a helicopter accidentally dropped a massive concrete block on to a cable car in the Austrian Alps.
One gondola hurtled to the ground and passengers were thrown from nearby cable cars after the load struck.
All of the dead appeared to be members of a German tour group, according to Edelbert Kohler, the head of police in Innsbruck.
The accident occurred in the ski-resort town of Soelden, 25 miles south-west of Innsbruck and some 300 miles west of Vienna.
The helicopter was hauling goods to the top of the cable-car lift for construction work when a huge chunk of concrete came loose and fell, Mr Kohler said.
"It was just terrible," one female eyewitness told Austrian radio. "There were bodies broken like rag dolls and this awful moaning from people whose limbs were broken and twisted from the fall.
"It was a terrible keening echoing through the mountain tops. It seemed there were some very young children lying there."
Four people were injured in the accident, while three others in the cable cars escaped injury, said Jakob Falkner, an executive of the cable car company.
But Red Cross officials claimed seven people were injured - five of them seriously.
Local media reports said the concrete weighed about 1,500 pounds.
Mr Kohler initially said it appeared that the chunk hit the cable, causing the gondolas to swing out of control, throwing the victims out.
But Mr Falkner told Austrian state television that the concrete directly hit one of the cable cars - a version later confirmed by Mr Kohler.
A dozen rescue helicopters hovered over the scene of the accident, while dozens of emergency workers rushed to the site on foot.
The glacier skiing area around Soelden - some of it almost 10,000 feet high - is popular with summer tourists, who flock to its perennially snow-covered peaks.
The accident happened shortly after 1pm local time, near the 11,000ft Schwarze Schneid mountain station - the goal for the helicopter's load.
Police said the helicopter had permission to transport the massive concrete blocks, which were to be used as the foundations for a new mobile phone and radar tower, but that a criminal investigation is now under way to discover what went wrong.
The cable car was taking the skiers between the Rettenbach and Tiefenbach glaciers when the concrete block fell from 900 feet above.
"It must have come down with the force of a high- explosive bomb," said a police spokesman.
Juergen Huffel, a tourist at the scene, said: "Yellow rescue helicopters swarmed in. There were loads of medical personnel on the ground within minutes.
"They realised very quickly just what a disaster it had been. One of the cable cars that had crashed into another one fell from the cable to the ground shortly afterwards, but all the people who had been underneath were no longer in the way."
Gottlieb Huetter, a police spokesman, said: "The people and cars fell about 15 metres. The injuries of some survivors were quite bad. People were flung out of the cars when they collided due to the vibration on the cables."
The cars can hold up to eight passengers at a time and are glassed in.
Mr Huetter added: "The passengers would not know what had hit them. It was like being bombed."
Roy Knaus, the head of the Heli Alpin Knaus helicopter company, said he believed the pilot had had no idea that he had lost part of his load.
Carl Ferrari-Brunnenfeld, a spokesman for the Austrian transport ministry, described the incident as a "tragic accident" and said it showed "how important it is that all safety procedures are strictly adhered to".
He added that cargo helicopters do not need special permission to take to the air and that the company is responsible for securing the materials they are transporting.
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