PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Army commandos using helicopters and a makeshift chairlift rescued eight people from a broken cable car as it dangled hundreds of meters (feet) above a canyon Tuesday in a remote, mountainous part of Pakistan, authorities said.
The six children and two adults became trapped earlier in the day when a cable snapped while they were crossing a river canyon in the Battagram district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The children were on their way to school.
Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar congratulated the military and other rescuers for the success. The dramatic effort transfixed the country for hours as Pakistanis crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals.
"Relieved to know that ... all the kids have been successfully and safely rescued," Kakar said on X, the service formerly known as Twitter. "Great team work by the military, rescue departments, district administration as well as the local people."
Because helicopters could not fly after sunset, rescuers eventually shifted from an airborne effort to a risky operation that involved using one cable that was still intact to approach the car with the chairlift.
In a statement, the military said the rescue operation was delicate and involved the commandos, pilots from the army and air force and the support of local authorities.
FILE - A military helicopter conducts a rescue operation to recover students stuck in a chairlift in the Pashto village of mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on August 22, 2023. (AFP via Getty Images)
Television footage showed a child in a harness being pulled to safety. The commandos' rope could be seen swaying in the wind against the mountainous landscape.
An expert described the helicopter rescues as extremely delicate because the wind generated by the helicopter blades could further weaken the remaining cables holding the car aloft.
As the rescued children were handed over to their families, most burst into tears, said Nazir Ahmed, a senior police officer who was present in the area where the air and ground rescue mission was launched.
"Everyone was praying for this moment," he said. He said villagers hugged the commandos and other rescuers when the operation was complete.
Food and water were supplied to the car earlier in the day, said Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for the state-run emergency service.
According to Pakistani TV stations, some of those trapped were in contact with their families by cellphone. Authorities said the two adults were consoling the children, who were between the ages of 11 and 15.
Villagers frequently use cable cars to get around Pakistan’s mountainous regions. But the cars are often poorly maintained, and every year people die or are injured while traveling in them.
Kakar said he ordered safety inspections of the country’s cable cars and chairlifts.
Helicopters were sent to attempt to pluck the people from the cable car but only after the group spent six hours precariously suspended 350 meters (1,150 feet) above ground, according to Taimoor Khan, a spokesperson for the disaster management authority.
Several helicopters hovered above the scene, and ambulances gathered on the ground.
Tipu Sultan, a retired army brigadier and defense expert, warned that the helicopters themselves could make the situation worse but that the commandos well aware of that risk.
In 2017, 10 people were killed when a cable car fell into a ravine hundreds of meters (feet) deep in the popular mountain resort of Murree after its cable broke.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.