CARRABASSET VALLEY, Maine — Investigators were still on the scene Sunday where three people were sent to the hospital with injuries not considered life threatening after an accident Saturday morning on the King Pine chairlift at Sugarloaf. Four more people injured in the accident were treated at the scene.
“All guests with injuries have been treated by ski patrol and are being transported off the mountain,” Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf spokesman, said in an email early Saturday afternoon.
In all, Sugarloaf’s ski patrol evacuated 204 guests from the lift by 1:30 p.m. with no injuries reported in that process.
According to information released by Austin, the King Pine lift experienced a “rollback” about 11:30 a.m., causing the chairs on the lift to travel backward.
The rollback did not cause the lift to de-rope, Austin said, and the lift traveled backward the distance equal to nine chairs.
Immediately after the lift’s failure, people at Sugarloaf took to social media to describe the lift suddenly rolling backward and skiers having to jump off as it picked up speed.
“I was waiting in line to get on the lift,” Darrell Davis of Kennebunk said late Saturday afternoon. “It was really confusing, and the first thing I saw was this kid who I knew had just gotten on the lift but he was just standing there.”
Davis, 48, said he soon realized the chairs on the lift were traveling backward with skiers on them.
“I saw a chair go around the back end of the [lift’s] wheel, and it was just flying up in the air with people on it,” he said. “People were jumping off, and it seemed to go on for a long time.”
Davis described a chaotic scene of people leaping from the moving chairs as crowds on the ground yelled for them to jump.
“There was one chair where everyone on it had bailed, but this one kid who was still on it and just looking around,” Davis said. “We are yelling, ‘For God’s sake, get off the chair!’ and for him to jump off so he wouldn’t go through the lift’s superstructure and fly around that wheel.”
Davis, who was staying at Sugarloaf in a friend’s condo over the weekend, said he knew his son was skiing off the King Pine lift and suffered some anxious moments before the 16-year-old contacted him saying he was not on it at the time of the accident.
Davis said he has no idea what went wrong to cause the lift to go backward like that, but he speculated several mechanical devices and safety features must have failed.
Austin said late Saturday that all lifts at Sugarloaf are designed with a number of fail-safe devices to stop it if something goes wrong.
“Eventually, one of those [fail-safes] did stop the lift,” he said. “Part of the investigation is to find out why it did not stop sooner.”
An inspector from the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety was on site at Sugarloaf Saturday to work with the resort in investigating the causes of the King Pine lift incident, according to Austin.
“Our first concern is with the guests who were injured and all of those who were impacted by the incident at the resort today,” Austin said. “Our staff is working with the tramway board on a thorough investigation, and we are committed to understanding the full cause of today’s incident.”
Sugarloaf spokeswoman Noelle Tuttle said Saturday that this was the first time a rollback had occurred at the ski facility.
According to a Sunday post on its Facebook page, resort officials hope to have preliminary information on what happened Sunday or Monday.
“With any luck, we’ll at least have a partial understanding sometime today or tomorrow,” the post said. “There may be other aspects that might take weeks, even months, to fully analyze. But we’ll let you know what we’ve learned when we fully understand it ourselves.”
The King Pine lift is a 122 four-passenger chairlift that was built in 1988 by Borvig and capable of moving 2,100 skiers per hour, according to Austin.
The lift receives daily safety inspections along with weekly, monthly and annual maintenance and testing, he said, and is subject to inspections by the tramway board. The King Pine lift was certified to operate by the tramway board on Oct. 29, 2014, after its annual inspection and a full dynamic load test, according to Austin.
The King Pine lift has been closed, Austin said, and the accident is under an investigation by Sugarloaf officials and the tramway board. All other lifts on the mountain are running.
In 2010, at least eight people — three of them children — were injured at Sugarloaf when a cable that lift chairs were attached to derailed and sent five of those chairs crashing to the ground. Dozens of skiers had to be rescued from the crippled lift by ski patrol units.
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