Ice likely caused Canada ski gondola accident

Wed Dec 17, 2008 3:17pm EST
 
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - An unusual buildup of ice likely caused the collapse of a gondola tower that stranded more than 50 skiers in mid-air at the popular Whistler resort in Western Canada, officials said on Wednesday.

A preliminary investigation discovered that water had leaked into the tower at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort -- which will host some of the events for Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics. The water then froze, creating a condition called "ice jacking", which caused the structure to fail on Tuesday.

"What happened yesterday was a very serious but isolated incident," said Doug Forseth, a senior vice-president for the resort, owned by Intrawest, a unit of Fortress Investment Group LLC.

Thirteen people received minor injuries during the incident and evacuation, and crews had to use ladders and other equipment to rescue 53 people from stranded gondola cars. Two cars with people in them bounced on the ground, but none fell off the cable, officials said.

Whistler, which is about 125 km (80 miles) from Vancouver, will host Nordic ski events for the 2010 Winter Olympics but the incident did not take place on the mountain where competitions will be held.

Officials said the broken tower had recently been inspected. It was not yet known how the water got into the structure and then broke metal welds when it turned to ice and expanded.

Safety officials allowed the resort's other lifts and gondolas to operate as normal on Wednesday, including the world's longest and highest gondola line, which opened last week.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)