Several injured as chairs drop from Maine ski lift

Published 1:20 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2010

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine — A chair lift derailed in high winds at Maine’s tallest ski mountain Tuesday, sending screaming skiers plummeting as far as 30 feet to the slope below and injuring several of them.

The Sugarloaf resort in Carrabassett Valley, about 120 miles north of Portland, said about six people were injured when five chairs fell an estimated 25 to 30 feet. The resort’s ski patrol evacuated the lift, which had passed an inspection.

None of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, the resort said. The injured were treated and taken to hospitals. About 220 people were on the lift at the time, and inspectors were headed to the scene.

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Rebecca London, one of the skiers who tumbled to the snow, told The Associated Press that she had a soft landing because the mountain had not groomed the new-fallen snow underneath the lift. Her face hit the retaining bar, but her goggles spared her from serious injury, she said.

Most of the skiers who fell appeared to be stunned but OK, she said, and the ski patrol was on the scene within minutes to begin treating the injured. London said she wasn’t hurt badly enough to go to a hospital.

Jay Marshall, hunkered down in a cold wind while on a lift next to the broken one, said that his lift was moving but that the broken one was not.

There was a “loud snapping noise” after the lift restarted, he said, then screams.

“The next thing I know, it was bouncing up and down like a yo-yo,” he said. Some skiers tumbled from their chairs.

Gideon Hacker, a skier from Princeton, N.J., said he saw at least one person taken off the mountain in a gurney pulled by a snowmobile. He said Sugarloaf workers used a pulley device to lower skiers to safety.

Jill Gray, a spokeswoman for Franklin Memorial Hospital about in Farmington, about 45 miles from the mountain, said that one person was taken there and flown to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Another person was being treated in Franklin’s emergency room, she said, and the hospital expected to receive five more patients. She did not give details on the injuries.

At the time of the accident, high winds were buffeting Maine a day after a blizzard swept across the region.

The National Weather Service has no wind sensors near Sugarloaf, but a weather balloon launched in Gray, in southern Maine, showed winds of 40 mph at 1,000 feet Tuesday, a weather service meteorologist.

It’s unclear whether the accident was wind-related or mechanical. The spillway chair lift was properly licensed and inspected, said Doug Dunbar of Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Ski resort chair lifts fall under the jurisdiction of the department’s Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety, and two inspectors were being sent to Sugarloaf, Dunbar said. The Maine Emergency Management Agency was sending a representative, as well, a spokeswoman said.

At 4,237 feet, Sugarloaf is Maine’s second-highest mountain after Mount Katahdin.