During a rescue operation spanning over 15 hours, the Pakistani Army successfully rescued two adults and six children who were involved in Tuesday’s cable car accident in Pakistan. The incident that transpired on Tuesday morning resulted in a high-stakes mission amidst worsening weather conditions. Nevertheless, the Army continued operations on the ground and rescued all those trapped in the dangling gondola.
At approximately 7:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday, in the mountainous Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, like many residents of the region, six children and two adults were travelling via cable car across the valley to get to school.
Alas, the cable car broke approximately 275 meters above the ground, as stated by rescue official Shariq Riaz Khattak in comments to Reuters, and it was left dangling in the air by a single rope. Utilizing mosque loudspeakers, valley residents conveyed the incident to officials in the neighbourhood.
Yet, after being stuck in the gondola for over five hours, 20-year-old Gulfaraz conveyed his desperation to the local news channel Geo News via telephone, saying: "For God’s sake, help us." He also mentioned that one man had already fainted, due to the heat and stress of the situation. He lamented that a helicopter had arrived and left without conducting any operation.
The Army's airlift attempts
After dangling in the air for hours, a Pakistani Army helicopter arrived at the scene, and Army commandos were seen attempting to lower themselves into the cable car. Khattak explained that the strong winds posed a significant threat to the success of the rescue operation, and the helicopter blades added to the risk of the airlift. Despite three failed rescue attempts, commandos managed to deliver food and medicine before successfully rescuing two children.
According to Abid Ur Rehman, a teacher from the area, over 500 people had gathered to watch the operation unfold in distress. He told AFP that: "Parents and women are crying for the safety of their children." Reuters reported that panic at the scene had spread throughout the nation, with locals glued to their televisions, awaiting any update on the rescue of the children.
Minor setbacks and alternatives
As darkness descended, state media announced that the helicopter rescue operation had been abandoned due to insufficient visibility and adverse weather conditions. They further stated through X (formerly known as Twitter), that the army would remain persistent in rescue efforts through alternative methods. They added that a small gondola would be utilised to aid in the rescue of the remaining passengers and that its primary purpose is to deliver food supplies. With the Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul-Haq Kakar also closely 'monitoring' the operations, a resident on the ground Abdul Nasir Khan told Reuters: "It is a slow and risky operation. One person needs to tie himself with a rope, and then he will go in a small chairlift and rescue them one by one."
Better late than never
At approximately 22:00 hrs local time, an announcement was made that three more children had been rescued. Within the subsequent hour, Pakistan's caretaker PM stated on X, "...all the kids have been successfully and safely rescued," praising the military, rescue departments, district administration, and local people. Shortly afterwards, the interior ministry confirmed that all passengers had been rescued safely.
Mission Complexity and President's Call to Action
In a statement, the army opined that the mission was ‘extremely difficult and complicated’ and ‘required significant amount of skill’. In response to the incident, the Pakistani President urged authorities to investigate the reasons why such an atrocity occurred and called for a survey to assess the safety of all local chairlifts.
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