Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bronx Zoo cable car passengers safe after repairs

Posted: 2008-07-10 01:58:16
NEW YORK (AP) - Dozens of Bronx Zoo sightseers were rescued unharmed after being stuck in cable cars 100 feet above zoo animals for five hours, authorities said.

Thirty-seven passengers were stranded in the Skyfari cable car ride when one of the gondolas got out of alignment, officials said. "The cable just jumped a wheel, but the gondola was in no danger of falling," said Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Haring.

Firefighters and police officers used a crane to rescue a family of three from the off-line gondola, which swung about 100 feet in the air. They got the gondola back online and restarted the system, allowing the passengers in the other cars to complete their rides before getting off.

The cable car ride broke down around 5:30 p.m., halting 14 cars.

One of the passengers rescued by crane, Olga Perez, said firefighters talked to the stranded passengers and gave them water. She was visiting the zoo with relatives who were stranded in the other cable cars.

"We were trying to calm ourselves," Perez said. "Deep in my heart, I knew I was going to take it a little bit at a time."

The Skyfari passes over the butterfly garden, the baboon habitat and part of the African plains exhibit, where lions and gazelles roam.

Zoo officials and rescuers said they didn't know why a car had become misaligned.

Neighborhood resident Gwen Lawson said she saw the paralyzed cable cars through binoculars from her apartment shortly after a thunderstorm.

The Skyfari opened in the 1970s and is certified by the state Department of Labor. Requests for comment by e-mail and telephone were not returned after-hours.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said stormy weather might have contributed to the mishap.

Zoo Director Jim Breheny, who joined Kelly and other officials at a news conference after all the passengers were rescued, said the ride's cables and pulleys are serviced every year.

"It was an unfortunate incident, but it was a happy ending to an unfortunate incident," he said.

Kelly said a seven-months pregnant passenger complained of cramps and was taken to a hospital. One other passenger was examined but refused medical attention.