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  1. #1
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    25 years ago, the country's worst lift accident

    http://www.summitdaily.com/article/2...ntprofile=1055

    http://www.summitdaily.com/article/2...ntprofile=1055




    Brad Johnson: Remembering the Teller Lift disaster


    BY BRAD JOHNSON,
    It was a gorgeous mid-December Saturday when a group of Houston orthopedic surgeons sat down for a quick ski lunch on top of Keystone Mountain.

    Dr. Wendell Erwin clearly remembers the double cheeseburger and Dr. David Lionberger's sweet tooth was anticipating a chocolate éclair.

    Suddenly, a ski patroller frantically called out: “Are there doctors in here?”

    “That's always a startling question,” Erwin said last week from his home in Houston. “We identified ourselves and the ski patrolman said ‘we've had a serious accident. Get your skis and get on the snowmobile.' ”

    Just down the hill, Dr. James Bocell had settled into his chair on the new Teller Lift anticipating a ride to the top to join his friends. The “bull wheel” around which the giant ski cable was wound suddenly fell off, and a deadly whiplash shot down the chairlift like a tidal wave hitting a beach.

    The jam-packed triple chairs dropped several feet before rocketing upward like a sling shot flinging 60 people up to 40 feet into the air before they crashed to the ground. In seconds, the ski slope was littered with people with broken legs, backs, crushed chests and many other injuries.

    What ensued is fading into history, except in the memories of those of us who were there. I was editor of the Summit Sentinel, the forerunner of the Summit Daily News. I was spending the morning with my eventual wife when our advertising manager called to say: “I'm not sure what's going on, but they are calling every piece of emergency equipment in the county to Keystone.”

    Within minutes, I was on scene of what would be a chaotic two hours. Soon our entire staff was mobilized to record the worst accident ever to hit Summit County.

    At the time, one of many stories I wrote was about a group of Houston doctors who were there for a ski injury conference — and who helped save the day. I decided to track a few of them down last week.

    Dr. Bocell was the last person to ever get on the Teller Lift. He was about 15 feet off the ground when he felt a big jerk. “I was looking at this big oscillating wave coming down. My mouth was agape.” He and his two seat mates felt the drop and then shot up about 30 feet but managed to hang on. He jumped off the chair before the last of three shock waves hit. “I had never seen anything like it, watching all those people get catapulted.”

    The impact on top was very violent and in the first 200 yards 49 people were seriously injured. Erwin, Lionberger and Dr. Robert Fain and Dr. Jay Oats, who all were in the cafeteria at the top, began triage within minutes.

    Erwin, a spinal specialist, hopped on the back of a snowmobile and coincidentally was dropped off next to a man with a broken back. He's often thought about the incredible odds of that occurring. “I do think God in mysterious ways does affect our lives,” he said.

    He also remembered that the serious injuries stopped right before the lift went over heavily forested areas. “If people would have been thrown out into that tree terrain, it would have been really disastrous,” he said.

    Lionberger started at the top. One of his patients “had gotten spun 360 degrees and accelerated in the air before he came down.”

    As Erwin first glanced at the scene “I wondered what the extent of it was. There were still people dangling from the chairs and many stranded. I hoped there was help on the way beyond us.” Lionberger had “a sinking feeling” and also wondered “what are we going to do here. You just reach down into your gut and handle it.” It was a common thought. Twenty five years ago I quoted Keystone Medical Director Dr. Jim Oberheide wondering: “Where is this going to end.”

    Five helicopters would arrive from throughout Colorado as well as numerous ground ambulances. Scores of medical personnel and others treated people in the snow and inside a small mountain medical clinic. The base of Keystone Mountain was covered with people lying in rescue toboggans surrounded by ski patrollers and volunteer medical workers because there was no room inside the clinic.

    Lionberger remembered how quickly volunteers with medical backgrounds appeared out of nowhere to help. “It was just a sort of coming together of a number of highly trained specialties,” Lionberger said. “Everyone had their adrenaline flowing.”

    And it underscored why communities spend time developing and practicing disaster drills.

    “I came away impressed with the work that someone had done developing a disaster plan,” Erwin said. “It was extraordinarily well run.”

    Lionberger said the accident was an unforgettable shock to everyone.

    “Skiing is a sport that is all grins, family relaxation and a festive joyous time to come together,” he said. “That wasn't the time of joy any physician or anyone would expect. It was a major cloud over the day.”

    Brad Johnson was a reporter and editor at the Summit Sentinel from 1981 to 1986. He now operates a real estate appraisal firm in Watertown, SD.

    hummus, pasta, and nuts


  2. #2
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    I never knew about that lift failure. I would have shat myself seeing the oscillating waive approaching my spot on the lift.

  3. #3
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    Never heard about this, pretty crazy stuff. It's amazing the amount of destruction that a lift can cause. I'm sure it's been posted here before but [nomedia="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8rXiN_Oys4"]YouTube - Rollback of a chairlift[/nomedia] is a good example of what can happen when shit hits the fan.

  4. #4
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    Didn't remember this was the anniversary, thanks for posting.

    Wife & I were on the Teller chair that day when it broke, six towers from the top.

    We did not see it coming. First thing was our chair dropped almost to the ground, then rebounded to above the towers. Like cracking the whip & we were riding the whip.

    I had one arm around my wife across the back of the chair. When the first drop happened I grabbed the chair seat between my wife's legs & hung on for dear life. We both stayed on.

    The last person thrown was from the chair in front of us, we saw him fall.

    When the oscillations finally settled down & we could look around, there were bodies everywhere.

    I was patrolling at A-Basin then (co-owned by Keystone at the time) & watched helplessly as my friends went to work on those that fell.

    Took two+ hours to finish the triage & transportation of the injured till they could begin evacuating those of us still on the chairs. By that time the sky was full of Air Med & TV news helicopters.

    I'll never forget that day & still like to keep an arm across the back of the chair when I'm riding lifts.

  5. #5
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    Why does the photo look like from 1955? WTF?
    Terje was right.

    "We're all kooks to somebody else." -Shelby Menzel

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by DasBlunt View Post
    Why does the photo look like from 1955? WTF?
    Umm, because it was before digital cameras. Scanned in photos from an old newspaper.

  7. #7
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    seen nasty cable bounce from from abrupt stops, but nothing like this. Mad River Glen had a loss of brakes in the early 80s and that was bad. Injuries but not sure how bad. The lift spun backwards.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by DasBlunt View Post
    Why does the photo look like from 1955? WTF?
    Because 25years ago the concept of printing a photo in a newspaper had a lot more akin to the 50s then it does to today's technology.

    Of course 25 years ago there wasn't much of an internet either and I don't recall hearing of this accident either even though I was working in the ski industry. Pretty scary and similar (worse) disaster to the Whistler downloading accident.
    It's not so much the model year, it's the high mileage or meterage to keep the youth of Canada happy

  9. #9
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    Didn't remember this was the anniversary, thanks for posting.

    Wife & I were on the Teller chair that day when it broke, six towers from the top.

    We did not see it coming. First thing was our chair dropped almost to the ground, then rebounded to above the towers. Like cracking the whip & we were riding the whip.

    I had one arm around my wife across the back of the chair. When the first drop happened I grabbed the chair seat between my wife's legs & hung on for dear life. We both stayed on.

    The last person thrown was from the chair in front of us, we saw him fall.

    When the oscillations finally settled down & we could look around, there were bodies everywhere.

    I was patrolling at A-Basin then (co-owned by Keystone at the time) & watched helplessly as my friends went to work on those that fell.

    Took two+ hours to finish the triage & transportation of the injured till they could begin evacuating those of us still on the chairs. By that time the sky was full of Air Med & TV news helicopters.

    I'll never forget that day & still like to keep an arm across the back of the chair when I'm riding lifts.
    wow!! must have been crazy

  10. #10
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    I remembered I was at Copper that day and almost went to Keystone instead. For years I thought about that every time I rode a lift and still put my arm behind the chair when it stops or bounces. What luck that there was a doctors conference that day.
    Last edited by Ski to Be; 12-15-2010 at 09:10 PM.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shredgar View Post
    Didn't remember this was the anniversary, thanks for posting.

    Wife & I were on the Teller chair that day when it broke, six towers from the top.

    We did not see it coming. First thing was our chair dropped almost to the ground, then rebounded to above the towers. Like cracking the whip & we were riding the whip.

    I had one arm around my wife across the back of the chair. When the first drop happened I grabbed the chair seat between my wife's legs & hung on for dear life. We both stayed on.

    The last person thrown was from the chair in front of us, we saw him fall.

    When the oscillations finally settled down & we could look around, there were bodies everywhere.

    I was patrolling at A-Basin then (co-owned by Keystone at the time) & watched helplessly as my friends went to work on those that fell.

    Took two+ hours to finish the triage & transportation of the injured till they could begin evacuating those of us still on the chairs. By that time the sky was full of Air Med & TV news helicopters.

    I'll never forget that day & still like to keep an arm across the back of the chair when I'm riding lifts.
    I can't imagine being witness to that. I bet everyone was shocked
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  12. #12
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    I had a lot of friends in elementary school who were at keystone that day. Still remember hearing their stories.

    The big joke growing up: "What does YAN stand for?" "You're Airborne Now". I guess that was funny as a kid.

  13. #13
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    Good Lord what a story. Amazing about the doctors eating lunch at the time.

    A good friend is a ski photographer for over 30 years, was on the scene at Squaw when the tram cable broke and cut the car in half along with 4 occupants. 30 anniversary was in 2008.

    http://www.moonshineink.com/articles.php?id=653

    Ride safe! every time I see the cable roll back I get ready to bail!

  14. #14
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    I don't know how such accidents are rated, but the Squaw
    cable car getting dissected by one of the cables was a wicked event.
    That's the cable that sliced through to the floor of the cabin in the photo.


    We don't make the snow. We just make it more enjoyable.


    Git Your FKNA On!

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  15. #15
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    sweet baby jesus what a nightmare!! there'd be a global news organization feeding frenzy if something like that happened these days. Everyone would know about it, especially if there was any video of the dozens of bodies flying through the air.
    ‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›

  16. #16
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    That sounds pretty grim.

    I was in Vaujany in 1989 when this fell off.


    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/jul/02/jonhenley
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roo View Post
    That sounds pretty grim.

    I was in Vaujany in 1989 when this fell off.


    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/jul/02/jonhenley
    Is that the one that the fighter jet clipped the cable?
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ski to Be View Post
    Is that the one that the fighter jet clipped the cable?
    At the bottom of the linked article.

    Cable car disasters

    • February 3, 1998 Twenty people die after a U.S. warplane hits a cable-car line in Cavalese in the Italian Dolomites, sending a cabin plunging 200 metres on to a mountainside.
    • January 1989 Eight technicians killed when car plunges 200 metres in Vaujany, France, during tests a week before it was due to go in to service.
    • February 13, 1983 Three cabins fall in Champoluc in Val d'Aosta. Eleven people killed.
    • March 9, 1976 Forty-two people die in Cavalese in world's worst cable-car disaster. One teenage girl survives, cushioned from impact of fall by bodies of victims. Inquest finds two steel cables crossed and one severed the other. Automatic safety system which could have prevented disaster was switched off.
    • December 8, 1970 Cable car falls between Bolzano and Merano in Italian Dolomites. Five people die.
    • December 25, 1965 Christmas Day power failure causes cabin to fall in Puy-de Sancy, France. Seven holidaymakers die, 10 more injured.
    • August 29, 1961 Military plane clips cable running between L'Aiguille du Midi and summit of Helbronner mountain in Alps. Three cabins fall. Five people die.
    "Nothing is funnier than Hitler." - Smokey McPole

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roo View Post
    At the bottom of the linked article.

    Cable car disasters

    • February 3, 1998 Twenty people die after a U.S. warplane hits a cable-car line in Cavalese in the Italian Dolomites, sending a cabin plunging 200 metres on to a mountainside.
    • January 1989 Eight technicians killed when car plunges 200 metres in Vaujany, France, during tests a week before it was due to go in to service.
    • February 13, 1983 Three cabins fall in Champoluc in Val d'Aosta. Eleven people killed.
    • March 9, 1976 Forty-two people die in Cavalese in world's worst cable-car disaster. One teenage girl survives, cushioned from impact of fall by bodies of victims. Inquest finds two steel cables crossed and one severed the other. Automatic safety system which could have prevented disaster was switched off.
    • December 8, 1970 Cable car falls between Bolzano and Merano in Italian Dolomites. Five people die.
    • December 25, 1965 Christmas Day power failure causes cabin to fall in Puy-de Sancy, France. Seven holidaymakers die, 10 more injured.
    • August 29, 1961 Military plane clips cable running between L'Aiguille du Midi and summit of Helbronner mountain in Alps. Three cabins fall. Five people die.
    Sorry
    I didn't see the link
    Thanks
    License to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations

  20. #20
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    This one was particularly gruesome, and probably the highest body count. Makes me shudder thinking about being in that car:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3502265.stm

    Flashback: Kaprun ski train fire
    The Kaprun inferno - at one of Austria's most popular ski resorts - was the country's worst fire since World War II.
    On the morning of 11 November 2000, 167 men, women and children boarded a funicular train that should have taken them to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.

    But 155 of them died in the blaze, in a tunnel high above the town of Kaprun.

    Most of the victims choked to death as they fled uphill to escape the blaze, which reached 1,000C.

    "I did not realise the full extent of the catastrophe until two railway workers came directly from the tunnel... All they had found was the metal base of the train," regional governor Franz Schausberger said at the time.

    Toxic smoke

    The fire broke out while the single-carriage train packed with skiers was entering the 3.2km tunnel.

    The blaze acted like a giant chimney, sucking oxygen in from the bottom and sending toxic smoke billowing upwards.

    “ My only thought was to get out. I was able to save myself at the last moment because a window was kicked in and I could fight my way out ”
    Survivor
    More than 200 rescuers tried to reach the train, but their efforts were thwarted the heavy smoke.

    The 12 people who managed to escape broke out of the back of the train.

    One survivor told Austrian media: "My only thought was to get out.

    "I was able to save myself at the last moment because a window was kicked in and I could fight my way outside."

    Rescuers worked in short bursts of 90 minutes because of the physically and psychologically gruelling conditions.

    The policeman leading the rescue operation, Franz Lang, said the force of the fire was so great "we had to cut out, to dissect each victim".

    Emergency workers said they saw melted rubber from ski-boots on the metal rungs of escape ladders.

    In most cases, identification required DNA tests.

    SKI TRAIN VICTIMS
    92 Austrians
    37 Germans
    10 Japanese
    8 Americans
    4 Slovenians
    2 Dutch
    1 Briton
    1 Czech
    International tragedy

    Among the dead were skiers from Austria, Germany, Japan, the US, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Britain and the Czech Republic.

    Thirty-seven of the victims were under the age of 20.

    It was an international disaster, but it was also very local tragedy.

    Thirty-two of the victims were from the nearby town of Wels, while in Kaprun, candles were lit in shop windows.

    Austria observed two days of national mourning.
    "We are all shaken," Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told a memorial service.

    "All of Austria is in mourning."

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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by goldenboy View Post
    I had a lot of friends in elementary school who were at keystone that day. Still remember hearing their stories.

    The big joke growing up: "What does YAN stand for?" "You're Airborne Now". I guess that was funny as a kid.
    This wasn't Yan's only fatal failure...some good info can be found here:

    http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/chairlift.html
    Decent people shouldn't live here...they'd be happier somewhere else.

  22. #22
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    I hadn't realized that was a Yan. The Whistler accident I mentioned was also a YAN. Whistler also had another one derail and the cable caught between the belanger and tower head, torquing the tower and breaking it's moorings. I think that lift was unoccupied.

    Meanwhile at Lake Louise they still proudly run one of the fucking things. Most areas took them out altogether. They did however take all identification off.
    It's not so much the model year, it's the high mileage or meterage to keep the youth of Canada happy

  23. #23
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    Yan

    Look up YAN on wikipedia and you can read all about their history. A Russian imigrant I believe he made a huge splash in the industry with lifts significantly less expensive than his competitors. If I remember correctly one of his methods was to do quite a bit of the actual welding and fabrication in the field instead of in a controlled environment in a shop. This meant not having to ship large prefabricated pieces with significant freight costs. This also meant hiring welders and other local trades that may or may not be fully qualified. Working in the filed also put the weather factor into play. There are still many YAN lifts out there but they have been retrofitted with larger bearings and bull wheels to recitify the issues they had.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by L7 View Post
    I hadn't realized that was a Yan. The Whistler accident I mentioned was also a YAN. Whistler also had another one derail and the cable caught between the belanger and tower head, torquing the tower and breaking it's moorings. I think that lift was unoccupied.

    Meanwhile at Lake Louise they still proudly run one of the fucking things. Most areas took them out altogether. They did however take all identification off.
    Which chair at Louise is still a YAN? I remember the old friendly giant and top of the world before it became a 6-pack were YAN. But I thought Glacier and Larch were Poma?

    Reading about these accidents is scary. I remember the Whistler one happening and reading about it in the paper.

  25. #25
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    I was at keystone about a month after that, on a trip from the east coast. A salty local guy was telling me about it on the gondi


    Can't believe it was that long ago......

    Those yan lifts are still all over mammoth. I always stare at the logo and remember this shit.

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