Sugarloaf chairlift accident: Preliminary findings fault high winds

4:44 PM, Dec 29, 2010   |    comments
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Photo courtesy Jack Michaud.

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Sugarloaf officials say after meeting with the State of Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety,  they believe "the primary cause of [Tuesday's chairlift] derailment was due to gusts of high-speed winds".

The same team of state inspectors along with the Sugarloaf lift maintenance team gathered at the mountain on Wednesday to continue their investigation into the accident on the Spillway East chairlift.

Doug Dunbar, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, says the state inspectors are still in the information gathering phase and have not issued preliminary reports or findings. Dunbar says the inspectors believe the wind played a contributing role in the accident, but they are continuing to investigate all potential factors.

Photo Gallery: Spillway East Chairlift Derailment

When Sugarloaf opened on Tuesday, officials say several lifts, including the Spillway East, were on a wind hold and did not operate. By 9:55am, the winds had diminished enough to open the lift.

Sugarloaf spokesperson Ethan Austin says a problem with the lift was first reported by a member of the ski patrol just after 10:20am. The lift cable was apparently running toward the outside of the liners of what is known as the sheave train of Tower 8. The sheave train is the bridge of wheels on which the lift cable is supported.

Sugarloaf says by 10:30am, a mechanic arrived at Tower 8 and another at the base of the Spillway chairlift. The mechanic at Tower 8 made an adjustment to the sheave train and the lift was slowly restarted to enable the cable to settle back into the correct location on the sheaves.

When the cable did not return to the proper running location, the mechanics made another attempt at the adjustment, which did not work.

Officials say the mechanic on Tower 8 determined that the lift should be closed, and the lift started again at a slow operating speed in order to off-load the people who were on the lift.

Austin says the lift cable deroped from Tower 8 just after Spillway East began the low speed start. The cable sagged enough between Towers 7 and 9 that five chairs struck the snow below. The lift was immediately shut down.

Evacuation procedures began at 10:45am, and after about 90 minutes all of the passengers were extricated from the chairlift.

Austin spoke with NEWS CENTER  on the Morning Report and said the Spillway East chairlift will remain closed until inspectors deem it safe to use again. He also says Sugarloaf will continue to be open as normal.

Injury Update
Sugarloaf says six people were treated for injuries at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. Two more, both cleared to leave the accident scene, were later admitted to Franklin Memorial Hospital. Thee patients were taken from Franklin to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Related stories:

Sugarloaf Chairlift Derails

Family of Skier Injured Speaks Out

NEWS CENTER

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