Vail, CO Gondola Cars Crash, Mar 1976


Vail, Colo. (AP) -- Three persons were killed and nine were injured Friday when two aerial gondola cars carrying skiers to the top of Vail Mountain crashed 50 feet to the ground.
The accident shut off power to the overhead cable-driven system and stranded more than 400 skiers riding in other gondolas. Ski patrolmen used a pulley system with rope and canvas seats to lower skiers individually from the 67 stranded cars. Each car can carry six skiers.
The victims were identified as:
JANICE K. PASTERKAMP, 14, of Englewood, Colo.
DARLENE REESE, 42, of Custer, S.D.
KAREN TOGHTNAN, 19, of Palos Park, Ill.
Officials said at least six of the nine injured were in critical condition at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver.
The gondola carries skiers 2,178 feet from the base of the mountain to the 10,000 foot elevation.
Six hours after the accident, rescue workers were still working to remove the remaining passengers from the other cars.
"It sounded like two cannon shots," said Jim Carpenter of Vail, who was skiing nearby. "I looked over and saw two gondola cars collided. The gondola cars looked like tuna fish cans and it was horrible."
Harriet Cooper, a skier in a car that dangled precariously behind the two cars that crashed, said the persons in her car noticed the cable ahead of them was frayed.
"Shortly after that, the cars started to rumble and really shake. Then the cable began to really go up and down."
"We all ducked and held tight. The car careened back and hit the car behind us. When we looked up ahead all the cars were gone."
"We were hanging very tenuously on a string up there. We knew if we moved there was a chance the car would smash to the ground."
Pam Conklin, a spokeswoman for Vail Associates, operators of the resort where President Ford skis, said the cause of the mishap had not been determined.
But witnesses said the two enclosed fiberglass and steel cars either collided when one broke from the overhead cable or one hit a steel support tower as it traveled up the mountains.
Howard Bronson of Vail said one car apparently became stuck at the support tower, snapped from the cable and crashed to the ground. The second car hit the support bar of the first car and snapped off, he said.
Bronson, who was skiing near the accident site, said a third car hit the jammed debris and slid back down the cable, slamming into a second car. The last two remained on the cable, but dangled precariously, he said.
Jean Kessler of Houston, Tex., was among the first skiers to reach the fallen cars.
"I just couldn't believe it. I just stood there, knees shaking, screaming as I watched the second one fall."
"As we pulled the screaming people from the gondola it was apparent that a couple were dead."

Panama City News Herald Florida 1976-03-27