In a recue operation of unprecedented scale, French, Italian and Swiss mountain rescue teams have managed to bring all the passengers to safety from the Aiguille du Midi cable car, which stalled high above a glacier on Mont Blanc at 2.30pm on Thursday September 8.
The 36 cabins were left dangling at an altitude of some 3,000m, after it is thought that high wind gusts caused its cables to get tangled. The full rescue operation lasted until the final cabins were brought to safety on Friday morning with over 30 people, including a 10-year-old stranded overnight in the most difficult-to-access cabins.
The rescue of these tourists by helicopter was suspended at as darkness fell and worsening mountain fog made flying too dangerous.
One of the commanders of the rescue operation, Col Frederic Labrunye of the Haute Savoie police force, told AFP new agency that the rescue was '"ike air surgery", with the helicopters having to land rescuers onto an area "not larger than a table."
Labrunye added that the scale of the rescue operation was "simply unbelieveable" both in scale and the harsh, high mountain environment: "We rarely rescue 110 people at the same time in high mountain, in the heart of one of the largest glaciers in Europe, over a distance of five kilometres of cable with 36 cabins."
Those trapped overnight were kept company by mountain rescuers who were lowered onto the cabins by helicopter with bedding and food. Their ordeal came to an end after the cable car operators were able to restart the cars by relaxing the tension of tangled cables.
The first 45 tourists were rescued by helicopter some 10 hours after the cars stopped, each one lifted off by crews hovering above. 30 more in cars, which had stopped closer to the ground, were lowered down onto the snow below with the help of rescuers using ropes.
The cable car connects the 3,842m Aiguille du Midi peak in France high above Chamonix with the 3,462m Pointe Helbronner in Italy, above Courmayeur.