More than 30 tourists, including a 10-year-old child, who were trapped overnight in cable cars thousands of metres up in the French Alps were set to reach the ground early Friday, the operators said.
The cable cars “restarted five minutes ago, the last cable (which was blocking the system) was untangled,” Mathieu Dechavanne, CEO of the Mont-Blanc Company that manages the system, told AFP just before 8am.
He said the remaining passengers could now be rescued without the use of helicopters.
Around 110 people were initially trapped when the cable cars became stuck at 3:40pm Thursday at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,500 feet) in the Mont Blanc region after an unexplained technical incident.
Seventy-seven people were evacuated, including 48 who were airlifted out by helicopter and around 30 travelling in cars closest to the ground who were able to climb down with the help of rescuers.
But with darkness falling and the weather deteriorating, the rescue operation was suspended, leaving 33 tourists, one of them a 10-year-old child, forced to spend the night dangling in mid-air.
“We were in contact with them throughout the night, the people were cold” but there did not appear to be any health emergencies, the local police chief, Stephane Bozon, told AFP as the rescue operation resumed early Friday.
The prefect of the Haute-Savoie region, Georges François Leclerc, said late Thursday that rescuers were forced to stop their operation at 8:45pm as they could not “guarantee the safety of the pilots, rescuers and the people stuck in the cars”.
During the night, a team of five rescuers, three French and two Italian police officers also attempted to reach the trapped tourists.
One of the officers managed to get into a car which contained a 10-year-old child.
Those still stuck had access to emergency blankets, energy bars and bottles of water in the cars.
The incident was caused by cables that got crossed for “unknown reasons”, but a gust of wind is thought to have played a part, Dechavanne said on Thursday.
The employees of the company were not able to repair the cars, forcing an evacuation operation to begin around 5:00pm.
The cable cars connect Aiguille du Midi on the French side of the mountains with Pointe Helbronner on the Italian border, where the rescued passengers were taken.
The cable cars, which carry four passengers each, offer panoramic views of Mont Blanc, which straddles the French-Italian border.
The incident comes five years after around 40 people were stuck for nearly seven hours on the Grande-Motte cable car in the southeastern French Alps after it broke down.
They were evacuated through trap doors in the floor of the cars, using ropes to reach the ground 40 metres (130 feet) below.