Drama over the East River
Midair Rescue Lifts Passengers From Stranded East River Tram
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Published: April 19, 2006
A four-minute trip on the Roosevelt Island Tramway turned into a harrowing ordeal that lasted hours yesterday as a series of power failures left 69 people suspended hundreds of feet in the air, forcing a daring late-night rescue over the East River.The Tram has had problems in the past, but this was ridiculous. This was news at 5 and the local news chopped the last 10 minutes off their 10 PM shows because they were just starting to rescue people.
About 11:15 p.m., after the passengers on two tram cars, one headed in each direction, had been hanging for more than six hours, rescuers began moving passengers into a large orange wire cage from the tram headed to Roosevelt Island, which was suspended over the East River. Passengers were pulled from the side door and loaded into the cage, which had a capacity of about a dozen people.
Cheers erupted when the first group, with eight children and five adults first touched ground at the Roosevelt Island terminal. The children exchanged high-fives with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Rescuers then planned to use the basket, which had crawled the 3,100-foot-long stretch of cable with self-generated power, to empty the Manhattan-bound tram, which was suspended near First Avenue.
After the first group arrived, Mr. Bloomberg held a briefing on the Roosevelt Island side. "We want to get out of this with nobody injured," he said, "and hopefully we learned something about how this will not happen again."
The ordeal began shortly before 5 p.m. when the power went out, leaving the two tram cars motionless on cables that rise as high as 250 feet above the East River between the East Side of Manhattan and Roosevelt Island.
Anxious relatives and city officials waited on land, squinting upward and using cellphones to talk with the trapped passengers, who included several children heading to Roosevelt Island for after-school activities. By 10:30 p.m., Mayor Bloomberg had joined the crowd on the Roosevelt Island side.
Family members of Rick Lazio, the former Republican Senate candidate from Long Island, were among those suspended in midair. His wife, Patricia, had been taking their 12-year-old daughter, Kelsey, to a tennis lesson on the island.
"I think the information flow has been pretty abysmal," said Mr. Lazio, in an interview from his Manhattan apartment about 10 p.m. "One of the problems is that the official communication has been extremely wanting, so people would get information from different sources, like cellphones."
"It's difficult for me to understand when you have a primary means of transportation over to an island, you don't have a backup plan in terms of retrieving the people who are caught in a situation like this," Mr. Lazio said.
Anyone who's ever been on that tram knows how scary that is. If you don't, imagine being suspended 250 feet over a cold, fast running river. As I post this, the rescue effort is still live on TV.
Oh yeah, after they climb into the basket, they have to climb down. The Tram was built in the 1970's as a cute way to get from Roosevelt Island, which is in the East River, to Manhattan, which administratively it is a part of.
This could go on until 2 Am.
What should have been a routine ride across the East River became an hours-long ordeal after what authorities described as a power failure left two cable cars carrying almost 70 people dangling hundreds of feet in the air.
Police responding to the incident on Tuesday night mounted a daring midair rescue, plucking passengers from one of the stranded cars using a diesel-powered rescue gondola capable of holding about 10 people at a time. An industrial crane and bucket were used to remove people aboard the other car, which was suspended above Manhattan, police said.
The rescue effort stretched into Wednesday morning, when by 5 a.m. everyone aboard both cars had been rescued. There were no reported injuries, police said.
posted by Steve @ 8:29:00 AM