Resort: Wind a key factor in Maine lift accident - KMOV.com

Resort: Wind a key factor in Maine lift accident

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) -- High wind was a primary factor in a chair lift collapse at a Maine ski area that sent skiers plummeting 25 to 30 feet, injuring eight and trapping others for more than an hour, the resort said Wednesday.

Inspectors from the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety made the preliminary findings, said Ethan Austin, a spokesman for the Sugarloaf resort. The investigators weren't available for comment, an agency spokesman said.

Austin did not say whether mechanical difficulties were also an issue. The lift, which recently passed an inspection, was due to be replaced, possibly next summer, and was known to be vulnerable to wind, the resort said Tuesday.

At least two skiers said a Sugarloaf worker was atop the tower where the lift's cable derailed, though that could have been a coincidence. The lift was properly licensed and inspected for 2010, said Doug Dunbar of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation.

Before the accident Tuesday, the damaged lift and two others started the day on a "wind hold" because of the blustery weather, but Sugarloaf officials later deemed it safe to operate before the accident at 10:30 a.m., Austin said. Guidelines for wind holds include wind speed and other factors, he said.

Wind gusts of 40 mph were reported around Sugarloaf before the accident on the lift, which was built in 1975 and set for upgrades or replacement. But one skier who fell the 25 to 30 feet to the new-fallen snow below said she didn't remember it being exceptionally windy.

"Maybe it was a small factor, but I don't think that it was a giant factor because I know the mountain wouldn't have opened the lift if it wasn't safe," Rebecca London told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"And I also have been on that chair lift in higher winds," she told ABC. "I don't remember it being outrageously high winds yesterday."

It's unclear when the investigation will be finished, Austin said. "But pending further investigation, they've determined that wind was a primary factor," he said.

Eight people, including three children, were taken to hospitals after the double-chair lift derailed at the resort 120 miles north of Portland. Five chairs fell to the ground, and dozens of skiers were stuck on the crippled lift for more than an hour until the ski patrol could get them down.

The lift is 4,013 feet long, gains 1,454 feet of elevation and nearly reaches the summit of 4,327-foot Sugarloaf, the state's second-tallest mountain.

A website dedicated to Sugarloaf's master plan said the first priority for lifts was to replace the twin east and west spillway lifts with a larger quad lift, partly because of vulnerability to the wind. John Diller, Sugarloaf's general manager, had previously told The Bangor Daily News that he hoped this would be the last winter for the lift.

"A fixed-grip quad will provide faster and more reliable transportation for skiers and, due to its additional weight, will be significantly less prone to wind holds than the current lift," the website said.

Sugarloaf assured visitors that its lifts are inspected each day.

"We haven't had a derailment of this magnitude in the 60 years Sugarloaf has been in operation," said Richard Wilkinson, vice president for mountain operations.

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Associated Press writers David Sharp and Clarke Canfield in Portland contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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