20 people trapped overnight on German cable car

August 13, 2011 - 9:14 AM
Germany-Blocked Gondola

A helicopter of the German Federal Police passes the famous Neuschwanstein Castle near Schwangau, Germany Saturday Aug. 13, 2011. Authorities say 20 tourists who had been trapped overnight in a gondola in southern Germany's Alps could be safely freed. Emergency service spokesman Roland Ampenberger says helicopter crews rescued the tourists, including several children, early Saturday morning after they had spent about 17 hours inside the gondola. Police say the gondola was blocked Friday after a paraglider crashed into the teleferic's cables, but strong winds hindered a swift rescue effort. Tegelberg mountain is within sight of one of Germany's popular tourist attractions, the Neuschwanstein Castle which is often viewed as the inspiration for one of Walt Disney's fairy tale castles. (AP Photo/dapd/Sebastian Widmann/dapd)

BERLIN (AP) — Emergency helicopters rescued 20 people on Saturday who had been trapped for 17 hours overnight on an Alpine cable car near Germany's most famous castle.

Helicopter crews lifted the cable car operator and 19 tourists to safety early Saturday from a gondola suspended 330 feet (100 meters) above the ground on Tegelberg mountain in southern Germany, emergency services spokesman Roland Ampenberger said.

The cable car that climbs the mountain was halted Friday after a paraglider tandem flight crashed into its cables, but strong winds hindered a swift rescue, police said.

A mountain rescue specialist was lowered into the gondola late Friday, however, providing enough food and clothing to keep the trapped tourists warm and fed through the night. He also stayed with the tourists, who ranged from age four to 75.

Those inside the 12 square meter (130 square foot) gondola were "tense, but remained calm," thanks to a permanent radio link with rescue forces, said Ampenberger.

"What helps people in such a situation the most is information. It gives them a sense of safety," he told the German news agency dapd.

The 6,170-foot (1,880-meter) Tegelberg is within sight of one of Germany's most popular tourist attractions, Neuschwanstein Castle, which is often viewed as the inspiration for one of Walt Disney's fairy tale castles.

The first to be airlifted from the gondola were two men, then four children and then everyone else. The entire rescue operation took about two hours, and more than 200 emergency personnel were on site, Bavaria's mountain rescue service said.

The incident also blocked Tegelberg's second gondola, but that cable car was halted only 230 feet (70 meters) above ground and its 30 passengers were roped down to safety Friday evening, it said.

Emergency services also airlifted some 130 people trapped at the mountain's top Friday back to the nearby village of Schwangau.

The two paragliders — a 54-year-old pilot and a 35-year-old passenger — were rescued by helicopter Friday and suffered only minor injuries. Police have opened an investigation.