60 trapped overnight in stranded cable cars; Tourists hanging 50m in high winds.
Byline: LOUISE SASSOON
SIXTY tourists had to spend the night in cable cars after the transport system broke down in the French Alps A huge rescue operation was launched and 50 of 110 sightseers were plucked from the cabins in high winds near Mont Blanc.
But the rest had to hunker down as they dangled up to 50m in the air, with temperatures plunging to -1C.
Passenger Frederic Maurer was one of the first to be rescued with his daughter and son after the cable car that runs between the Aiguille du Midi station in Chamonix and the Punta Helbronner in neighbouring Italy broke down.
The 49-year-old said: "We were in the sun. We had just started from the Italian side when everything froze."
French, Italian and Swiss rescue services used helicopters to evacuate some of the passengers after the cable cars failed at around 5.25pm.
But the rescue operation was called off due to fading light and will resume today.
Food, water and survival blankets were distributed to those still inside.
Unconfirmed reports claim blustery conditions led to the breakdown of the service. Local TV reported that cables got tangled up due to the raging winds.
Mathieu Dechavanne, chief executive of the company which manages the cable cars, said the rescue operation "will take some time". He added: "We are in contact with customers. They have water and means to communicate."
A spokesman for the local gendarmerie police said: "We will evacuate passengers by air, with police helicopters but also private ones called in by local authorities."
it was staying informed in "real time of the evolution of the situation".
The ride between the Aiguille du Midi and Helbronner peaks is at an altitude of 3,000 metres and usually takes 35 minutes.
Around half a million climbers and tourists are estimated to use the cable car each summer.
The ride takes in spectacular up-close views of western Europe's tallest mountains, glaciers and steep valleys.
Visitors on Brighton's i360 tower, including two pregnant women, were left stranded in mid-air for more than two hours after it broke down.
drama Emergency aircraft flies to scene
OH MY POD... Cable cars stranded in French alps
safe Chopper rescues tourist from cable car