75 people rescued from damaged chairlift at Ohau skifield

The Ohau Snow Fields chairlift was damaged and stopped working properly.
Kelvin Cunningham

The Ohau Snow Fields chairlift was damaged and stopped working properly.

Seventy-five people were rescued from a South Canterbury skifield chairlift after it stopped working properly. 

Ohau Snow Fields manager Mike Neilson said a skier awkwardly dismounting damaged the chairlift about 2.15pm on Friday.

The skier held onto the chair too long after getting off and it became entangled in the chairlift infrastructure, bending some steel. 

This webcam shot was taken at 4pm, showing people still on the chair lift.
Ohau Snow Field

This webcam shot was taken at 4pm, showing people still on the chair lift.

Staff shut down the lift as a result. 

"We did run it a little bit to see if it could handle it. It was just decided it would be better off to evacuate everyone, then look at fixing it properly," Neilson said. 

Police search and rescue, who ski field staff members trained with regularly, were called as staff got skiers down from the lift, which was quite high off the ground in places. 

Neilson said they got about 40 people down within about half an hour. Everyone was off by 4.30pm, with refunds given. 

A replacement part was being fitted on Friday evening. 

"We'll be up and running tomorrow," Neilson said. 

John Shaw was among those rescued, he estimated after about 50 minutes to an hour. 

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The sun had just come out and he was headed for his first run of the afternoon. 

"It turned out to be epic in another way."

Staff gave those stuck updates from below, while they set up a system using a T-bar, wire, pulley and carabiner to get people off the chairs, Shaw said. 

"Once they got set up, it was only a five-minute rescue," Shaw said. 

"Hats off to Ohau, they handled it really well."

Kelvin Cunningham jumped off the lift and saw the chairlift mechanism warp. 

"It put stress on the rope, bumping it as it went round."

He said it would have been "scary for people on the lift".

"They did a great job getting people down."

Neilson said all staff were trained on chairlift evacuations. This was the first real one since the chairlift was put in in 2004, he said. 

They did a great job, he said, and were having a drink at the lodge together as a congratulations. 

The weather on the field was fine and calm, he said. The skifield's website said the temperature was -1 degree Celsius at 4pm. 

 - Stuff

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