'I was never scared – I had a salad baguette in my bag': Tourists trapped overnight in cable cars above French Alps tell how they survived -10C conditions without coats

  • 110 people became trapped in the cable cars at 4pm yesterday when cables became tangled in high winds
  • The cable links the spectacular Aiguille du Midi station in France to the Italian Punta Helbronner station 
  • French and Italian rescuers brought 65 sightseers to safety, but remainder spent terrifying night in cabins
  • British, US, Italian, French and Korean tourists among 33 rescued this morning after overnight ordeal 

Tourists, including at least one Briton and four children, trapped overnight in cable cars suspended at an altitude of more than 3000 metres in the French Alps have been rescued. 

Some were too traumatised to speak about their ordeal publicly, including a couple from Korea and their two young children aged under 10. Others spoke of the ‘bitter cold’.

A total of 33 people, from the UK, France, the US, Italy and Korea, were trapped overnight in freezing conditions. There were two Korean children and a French child aged under 10 and an American child of 13. 

One rescued tourist revealed how they kept going with a ‘salad baguette’ while others described how they shivered without coats in -10C temperatures.

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Dozens of tourists have spent the night trapped in cable cars suspended in the French Alps after high winds caused a mechanical failure. The rescue operation restarted this morning

Dozens of tourists have spent the night trapped in cable cars suspended in the French Alps after high winds caused a mechanical failure. The rescue operation restarted this morning

Terrifying pictures show sightseers being winched up to a helicopter hovering above their cable car high up in the French Alps

Terrifying pictures show sightseers being winched up to a helicopter hovering above their cable car high up in the French Alps

A ten-year-old child was among the many tourists trapped over night. Italian police are pictured escorting a boy trapped in the cable car

A ten-year-old child was among the many tourists trapped over night. Italian police are pictured escorting a boy trapped in the cable car

Terrified passengers were pictured arriving at a cable car station in Courmayeur, Italy last night

Rescue operations continued into the night but eventually had to be postponed until the morning

Rescue operations continued into the night but eventually had to be postponed until the morning

Antoine Burnet, a spokesman for the Compagnie Du Mont Blanc lift company, said: ‘Everyone is safely back down. 

‘There were medics who checked that everyone was ok. The Korean family was distressed and the children were shocked but they were checked over and all was good. No one needed hospital treatment.’ 

Student Jules Blanc, 25, from Aix-En-Provence, in the south of France, was one of those stranded for the night. He told of his concern for the children. 

He said: ‘We were worried about the people in the other cabins. Two cabins away there was a family from Korea. We had seen them getting on. 

‘In the cabin next to us there were experienced mountain people and they managed to communicate with the family. They managed to indicate to them that there were survival blankets under the seats. But they were scared. 

One of the 33 tourists who spent a night in cable cars in the French Alps, is escorted by rescuers and police officers after being brought to the ground

One of the 33 tourists who spent a night in cable cars in the French Alps, is escorted by rescuers and police officers after being brought to the ground

A woman wrapped in a blanket is led to safety after spending the night trapped in a cable car in the French Alps

A woman wrapped in a blanket is led to safety after spending the night trapped in a cable car in the French Alps

Pictures show the stranded cable cars at the centre of a major rescue operation.  Technicians were trying to untangle the cable cars this morning by loosening the tension of cables holding them

Pictures show the stranded cable cars at the centre of a major rescue operation.  Technicians were trying to untangle the cable cars this morning by loosening the tension of cables holding them

A French rescue helicopter hovers near three cars of the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car that stalled around 4 pm yesterday after its cables reportedly tangled

A French rescue helicopter hovers near three cars of the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car that stalled around 4 pm yesterday after its cables reportedly tangled

Rescuers worked on the ground and in the air at high altitude as they tried to rescue more than 100 people stuck in the cable cars

Rescuers worked on the ground and in the air at high altitude as they tried to rescue more than 100 people stuck in the cable cars

A tourist is dramatically taken to safety in a rescue operation which was praised by France's Interior Minister after 110 people were trapped in 36 cable cars

A tourist is dramatically taken to safety in a rescue operation which was praised by France’s Interior Minister after 110 people were trapped in 36 cable cars

Police confirmed 110 people were trapped due to a mechanical problem with 36 cable cars in the French Alps

Police confirmed 110 people were trapped due to a mechanical problem with 36 cable cars in the French Alps

Four helicopters were used to take 65 people to safety, and emergency crews were praised for their response

Four helicopters were used to take 65 people to safety, and emergency crews were praised for their response

Ambulances were stationed close to terminals as a precaution this morning after dozens spent the night in cable cars

Ambulances were stationed close to terminals as a precaution this morning after dozens spent the night in cable cars

‘We saw the family this morning and they were in shock. Traumatised I’d say. We were lucky because we had a lot of information. We were in contact with the police. We had two mobile phones between us with good battery power. And we were told we were secure and not in danger. 

‘We saw the helicopter at about 6pm. But we could see the fog coming in and we were told a few hours later that we would be spending the night up there. 

‘We just sat there in the little cable car. It’s pretty tiny in there. We played a few silly games and chatted. Then this morning they managed to get it working really slowly so we didn’t need to be winched out. We got to the station at Helbronner and then we were taken by helicopter to Chamonix.’ 

Survivors emerge after being taken to safety in Chamonix, but 33, including a child aged 10, had to spend the night in cable cars

Survivors emerge after being taken to safety in Chamonix, but 33, including a child aged 10, had to spend the night in cable cars

65 tourists were taken to safety by rescue teams in the Alps after 110 were trapped after a mechanical failure

65 tourists were taken to safety by rescue teams in the Alps after 110 were trapped after a mechanical failure

Authorities called a halt to efforts to bring the tourists to safety at around 9pm, with the rescue operation set to resume on Friday morning

Authorities called a halt to efforts to bring the tourists to safety at around 9pm, with the rescue operation set to resume on Friday morning

Rescuers were able to take 65 people to safety after the cable cars became stuck in Chamonix, but another 33 people are being rescued this morning

Rescuers were able to take 65 people to safety after the cable cars became stuck in Chamonix, but another 33 people are being rescued this morning

Rescuers gathered at the Mont Blanc cable station before sunlight as they prepared to rescue the remaining passengers

Rescuers gathered at the Mont Blanc cable station before sunlight as they prepared to rescue the remaining passengers

This was the scene early on Friday morning as a rescue mission got underway from the cable car 'Skyway' terminal in Courmayeur

This was the scene early on Friday morning as a rescue mission got underway from the cable car ‘Skyway’ terminal in Courmayeur

Jules was in a cabin with brothers Louis Delisle, 20, and Clement, 24, and their father Valerie, 52. 

Louis, on a mountaineering holiday in Chamonix from Aix-en-Provence, said: ‘It was so cold. Too cold to sleep. We were saying that we feel like we have been up all night partying, we are that tired. 

‘We played games – word games – to try and occupy our time. We were trapped for 15 hours. But I was never actually scared. 

‘I had a salad baguette in my bag and we had three litres of water so that was good. It must have been minus 10 degrees. We were not so well equipped. We just had these light clothes.’ 

‘We are pretty relieved it’s all over. I don’t think we will be rushing to go in a cable car today but it’s certainly not put us off too much.’ 

Relieved: Young tourists were taken to safety in an operation which has been praised by senior officials in France

Relieved: Young tourists were taken to safety in an operation which has been praised by senior officials in France

Four helicopters were used to get people out of the pods, with strong winds thought to be responsible for the mechanical failure

Four helicopters were used to get people out of the pods, with strong winds thought to be responsible for the mechanical failure

Relief: A woman smiles after being taken to safety after the dramatic mountain rescue on Thursday night

Relief: A woman smiles after being taken to safety after the dramatic mountain rescue on Thursday night

Rescuers were still endeavouring to free the people trapped in cable cars late into the night, and helicopters brought 65 tourists down to land

Rescuers were still endeavouring to free the people trapped in cable cars late into the night, and helicopters brought 65 tourists down to land

A total of 110 tourists were trapped in 36 Panoramic Mont Blanc pods, which seat a maximum of four people each. 

They were on a spectacular 35-minute 5km cable car trip over the Vallée Blanche glacier and Glacier du Géant when suddenly the cable cars stopped. 

The journey links the Aiguille du Midi, a 3842 metre peak above Chamonix, France, to the Point Helbronner, a 3462 metre peak in Italy. 

The price for a family pass is 259.50€; an adult 86.50€ and a child 73.50€. 

Rescuers deployed four helicopters to free the 110 tourists. They managed to rescue 65 people before night fell. Then a further 12 people were rescued before midnight. 

The lift system broke down at 5.25pm. At 11pm a helicopter could still be seen above the site. 

Technician Cyril Viallard, 47, from Grenoble, France, who was one of the 33 people trapped overnight, said: ‘It had been a hot day and so we weren’t wearing too many layers. We had only intended on being up there for the day. 

French Police confirmed that the operation had been suspended for the night, but said food and blankets had been distributed to those stuck in cabins

French Police confirmed that the operation had been suspended for the night, but said food and blankets had been distributed to those stuck in cabins

‘We were in the cable car and it suddenly started swinging. We thought it was a bit odd and then it stopped. We waited for a couple of hours and then thought maybe we should call the police. They told us there was a mechanical failure. We never worried that it was a terror attack or anything like that. 

‘I live in the mountains so I am used to this environment. I was with a friend and a guide whom we had hired. There was an older man in the cabin with us too. 

‘We got no sleep at all. And we were hungry. We shared what food we had between us. I had a cereal bar, not much else because it was the end of the day. 

‘It was pitch black up there. But I had a head torch. Once night fell it got so bitterly cold. That was the worst thing. And at 3am it started swaying with the wind. 

‘We were not frightened because we had information. It was an experience.’ 

An elderly British couple told how they narrowly escaped being trapped over night. Margaret and William Hamilton, from Fife, were next in the queue to board a cable car when suddenly it stopped. 

Mr Hamilton, 86, said: ‘We are staying in Chamonix and decided to make a day-trip of it and go over to Italy. We went up and had lunch up at the Pointe Helbronner. 

‘We then went to the waiting room and queued up to get into the next cabin. Luckily for us we were not a few minutes sooner.’ 

The mayor of Chamonix said French and Italian rescuers are working together to bring sightseers to safety. Relieved passengers were filmed as they were being brought to safety

The mayor of Chamonix said French and Italian rescuers are working together to bring sightseers to safety. Relieved passengers were filmed as they were being brought to safety

Passengers tell of their relief after being brought to safety last night. Others were forced to spend the night in a cable car after the rescue mission was abandoned for the night

Passengers tell of their relief after being brought to safety last night. Others were forced to spend the night in a cable car after the rescue mission was abandoned for the night

A helicopter hovers near three cars of the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car that stalled yesterday. The mechanism has been successfully restarted this morning

A helicopter hovers near three cars of the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car that stalled yesterday. The mechanism has been successfully restarted this morning

Mrs Hamilton, 82, said: ‘Those poor people. ‘We waited up there for a while and then the lift company took us back down to the valley floor in Italy and then they bussed us back to Chamonix. 

‘We are now trying to get our money back or go back up there again today to have the day we had intended.’ 

An investigation is underway to establish the cause of the breakdown. A spokesperson from the Compagnie du Mont Blanc which operates the lift said: ‘As a result of cables being crossed in the three areas along the 5km of the Panoramic Mont-Blanc gondola linking the Aiguille du Midi in France to the Pointe Helbronner in Italy, 110 persons were blocked in their cabins. 

‘Crossed cables is when the haulage cable crosses the cable on which the cabins are suspended. This may happen in the event of a sudden stop during the trip or strong gusty winds. 

‘A procedure to uncross the cables exists which was immediately put into operation as soon as the problem was discovered.

110 people were stuck in cable cars close to the town of Chamonix this afternoon

110 people were stuck in cable cars close to the town of Chamonix this afternoon

 ‘Two of the crossed cables were successfully unknotted but, unfortunately, the third knot could not be unraveled within a reasonable delay.

‘Due to compulsory delays to launch rescue procedures, at 5pm the Compagnie du mont Blanc called on the resources of the mountain rescue teams.’ 

The tourists had accessed the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable cabins, open from June to September, from either the Helbronner in Italy or the Aiguille du Midi in France. 

The two peaks have their own cable car system connecting them to their nearby villages. The French Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi connects the peak of Aiguille du Midi to the village of Chamonix, while the Italian Skyway Monte Bianco connects the peak of Pointe Helbronner to the village of La Palud, just north of Courmayeur near the Mont Blanc Tunnel. 

The Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car tourist attraction linking the two countries was opened in 1958. There are 12 groups of three cabins which seat four people each. 

They are pulled by a haulage rope of 10,200 metres in a single loop. The cabins run from the Aiguille du Midi station over the Vallée Blanche glacier and the Glacier du Géant glacier to the Helbronner station. 

Although the cables sag by some 255 m, the cabins still have a clearance of some 300 m to the glacier underneath. 

Were you trapped in one of the cabins, or did you see the rescue operation unfold? Please get in touch by emailing david.burke@mailonline.co.uk 

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