PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Army commandos dangling from helicopters plucked two children from a broken cable car suspended hundreds of meters (feet) above a canyon Tuesday in a remote part of Pakistan, the military said. Four more children and two adults still awaited rescue as night fell.
The military said in a statement that the rescue mission was still underway. Footage on TV stations 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 rescue as extremely delicate because the wind generated by the helicopter blades could further weaken the remaining cables holding the car aloft.
Relatives of those trapped prayed while anxiously watching the operation unfold. The rescue also transfixed the country as Pakistanis crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and hospitals.
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.
One of the cables snapped while the eight passengers were crossing a river canyon Tuesday morning in Battagram district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The children had been on their way to school.
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.
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 spokesman for the disaster management authority.
Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, wrote on X that he ordered authorities “to urgently ensure safe rescue and evacuation” of the eight people.
“I have also directed the authorities to conduct safety inspections of all such private chairlifts and ensure that they are safe to operate and use,” he said on the platform formerly known as Twitter.
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 would be well aware of that risk. Khan added that the pilots were flying “carefully.”
“Let us pray that those trapped in the cable car are safely rescued,” Sultan said.
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.