CARRABASSETT VALLEY — A chairlift derailed at Sugarloaf Tuesday morning injuring six people when five chairs fell to the ground.
All others on the lift had been evacuated safely the resort was reporting as of 1:30 p.m.
A derailment is when the cable carrying the chairs comes off the tracks or the "sheave train," which carries the cable over the chairlift towers.
The Sugarloaf Ski Patrol responded and the lift was shut down instantly. The chairlift's safety systems will cause it to turn off when a derailment occurs. Those left still suspended on the chairlift were evacuated by the ski patrol using a system of ropes and belaying devices used by mountaineers. The patrol trains regularly for these types of incidents and hosted a statewide training event on a similar scenario in early November.
At Sugarloaf, the ski patrol, usually mans the highest lift running and responds to accidents from there. Tuesday it is likely the initial response would have been staged from the top of Spillway East.
Resort officials predicted the evacuation took between 60 and 90 minutes. Most being evacuated were unhurt and complaining only of being cold — the air temperatures at the mountain, Maine's tallest ski hill, were hovering around 9 degrees.
Press releases issued by Sugarloaf said there were about 220 people on the lift at the time of the accident and that so far six injuries, all non-life-threatening had been reported.
"The Spillway East lift at Sugarloaf derailed from the lift's eighth tower," a release issued from the resort stated. "As a result of this derailment, five chairs fell an estimated 25-30 feet to the ground below."
Resort spokesman Ethan Austin said the resort was fairly busy as it was a holiday vacation week, he told the Associated Press the incident was a "big deal."
The accident occurred shortly after 10:30 a.m.
In a subsequent release the resort stated the cause of the accident was unknown and it remained under investigation.
"The Spillway East chair is a 2-passenger monocable, fixed-grip chair manufactured and installed by Borvig in 1975. This lift was modified in 1983. Spillway East is 4,013 feet long with a vertical of 1,454 feet. This chair moves at a speed of 500 feet per minute and the chairs are 50 feet apart. There are 162 chairs on this lift each weighing 140 pounds," a release describing the lift stated. "Spillway East has a 250-horsepower motor and has a capacity for 1,200 skiers per hour."
The lift receives routine daily inspections for safety and weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance and testing," the release stated. The lift is also inspected annually for safety by the State of Maine's Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety inspectors, the release stated.
The lift is one the resort has slated for replacement as part of a 10-year improvement plan.
"Sugarloaf Mountain and its employees are concerned for the people involved, additionally the resort would like to express gratitude to all the safety personnel that have responded to this incident," the release stated. "Sugarloaf Mountain is absolutely committed to the safety of its guests and employees."
Franklin County's Emergency Management Agency director also responded to the resort with the county's emergency communications vehicle. Several local fire departments were also alerted to the accident and placed on stand-by.
Resort officials had called a 1:15 p.m. press conference and more details on this accident will be updated here as they become available.
If you have photos or information about this accident, please contact the Sun Journal via our submit a news tip section.
Staff Writer Ann Bryant and Regional Editor Scott Thistle contributed to this report.