Clamp Failure Suspected In Whistler Lift Accident

WHISTLER, B.C. - Failure of a chairlift clamping device is being blamed for a fatal accident Saturday at this ski resort.

Doug Forseth, president of the Whistler Mountain Ski Corp., said a clamp failure apparently caused the chair to shoot down the cable and produce chain-reaction crashes with chairs in front of it.

Killed was Trevor MacDonald, 25, of Vancouver, B.C. Eight others were hospitalized.

Forseth said that as the chairlift comes out of the station, "there's a high-grip switch which checks to make sure the grip is secure on the cable, and if there is a problem it sends a fault and stops the lift immediately."

"That never happened. We're assuming at this point the grip was securely on the cable."

Officials from a coroner's office near Whistler, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the provincial government's Aerial Tramways Branch were investigating.

RCMP Cpl. Derel Little said officers also were investigating one report of skiers bouncing and swinging chairs before the accident.

It was the second fatality at Whistler this year. A Summerland, B.C., woman died in February when she fell 70 feet down a steep slope after taking off her skis.

MacDonald was killed about 3:45 p.m. Saturday when the four chairs fell from the ski lift and plummeted 30 feet to the ground. The Quicksilver Express lift, a new four-passenger chairlift, was bringing skiers down because there was not enough snow on the run.

Nine other people were taken to the Whistler Medical Clinic and then on to Vancouver-area hospitals. One man was treated and released. Six others were in good condition, one in serious but stable condition, and the condition of one man was unknown.

Witnesses said the accident caused some skiers to jump for their lives, while others waited suspended up to four hours in the dark on swaying chairs. About 200 of them were rescued by ski-patrol members using an emergency rope system.

The Quicksilver lift was closed yesterday. But the resort's 13 other lifts were operating, resort spokesman David Perry said.

The size of the holiday crowds did not appear to be affected, and Perry said there was no reason for skiers to worry about the other lifts.

"The maintenance we do and the checks we do are all regulated," he said. "We comply with all regulations, and the maintenance schedule is followed every day."

Christmas week traditionally is the busiest time of year for the resort, which draws about 800,000 skiers a year and is regularly ranked among the top five ski destinations in North America.

"I still expect it to be busy," said Chris Kovacs of Crown Resort Accommodations, which makes reservations for 180 rental condominiums in the area. "We've had a couple of calls asking what the situation is but no cancellations."

A manager at a nearby lodge said people consider the accident a freak occurrence. "More people have died driving up here than have ever died on the mountain," he said.

There have been several ski-lift accidents in recent years.

In 1991, a chair fell 40 feet from a lift at Timberline Ski resort in Oregon. A woman suffered a broken back after the chair began swinging and struck a support pole.

In 1990, high-school students at a summer camp at White Pass Ski Area near Yakima were hurt when they were thrown from a ski lift carrying them down a mountain. One chair was ripped from the cable, seriously injuring two students. State investigators found the accident was caused by an electronic malfunction.

In 1987, five people died in France when a pylon supporting a new chairlift snapped.

Information from Associated Press is included in this report.