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Five Killed, 41 Injured in Fall from French Ski Lift

March 2, 1987

TARBES, France (AP) _ A damaged chairlift pitched dozens of skiers onto rocks and snow far below Sunday, killing five and seriously injuring 41 at the Pyrenees resort of Luz- Ardiden, officials reported.

They said 76 other people on the lift were treated for lesser injuries or shock.

All of the victims who perished were French except one Spaniard. He was identified by the Tarbes regional governor’s office as Francisco Pako San Sebastian of Isasondo-Alcabbda, Spain.

Some victims reportedly fell from heights of up to 130 feet.

The accident occurred about 4:30 p.m., but the cause was not clear. Local news media gave conflicting reports, saying the lift cable snapped, that it jumped off a pulley, or that a support pylon may have collapsed.

The lift could carry 200 skiers at a time.

The chairlift, on the resort’s upper slopes at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet, was new and opened just two weeks ago.

It was built by Montaz-Mautino of Grenoble, which has constructed cable car and chairlifts in Spain and the French Alps, notably at Chamonix, according to the Pyrenees branch of the French National Association of Chairlift Maufacturers.

The resort is high in the Pyrenees mountains running along the border between France and Spain. Luz-Ardiden is about 20 miles south of the pilgrimage town of Lourdes.

The casualty count came from the office of the regional governor in Tarbes, which mobilized all civilian rescue services in the area, including three civil defense helicopters. The office also called in two French army helicopters to evacuate those seriously injured to hospitals in the region.

A police officer interviewed by French television, and identified only as Capt. Mele, said the accident apparently was caused by the collapse of the upper part of one of the support pylons.

Police closed all roads to the town of Luz to keep them clear for a fleet of 35 ambulances. First aid was given at Luz.

The accident occured in fine weather. The resort was crowded, as it was the end of a school vacation week in the Bordeaux region and the start of a school vacation in the Toulouse area. Most of the skiers in the Pyrenean resorts come from these two regions.

The French Transport Ministry said an inquiry into the accident would be started immediately, and that Minister Jacques Douffiagues would call a meeting of safety officials, ski-lift constructors and operators to ″redefine safety rules.″

It noted a nationwide inspection of ski lifts had been started in January, and said they would be stepped up to cover all aspects of construction and operations.

In the past 25 years, there have been only seven significant accidents on the hundreds of cable lifts of various kinds in French ski resorts.

The worst was Oct. 27, 1972, at Deux-Alpes in the Alps, where nine technicians were killed when two cable cars collided during tests.

Seven skiers were killed on Dec. 24, 1965. They were among 18 persons thrown out of a cable car at Mont Dore in the cental Puy de Dome region when an electricity failure stopped the car and it was swung by high winds onto rocks.

In the Mont Blanc range, six people were killed on Aug. 29, 1961, when a low-flying jet fighter cut a cable car wire in the White Valley, sending three cars crashing to the ground.

In the most recent accidents, six people were injured, one seriously, at La Plagne in the Alps on July 26, 1985, when a cable car crashed, and 36 were injured at Les Orres in the Alps last Dec. 27 when two cars fell.

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