Loading difficulties led to falls from chairlift | AspenTimes.com

Loading difficulties led to falls from chairlift

Aspen Times Staff Report

An eight-year-old boy’s fall off a Buttermilk chairlift Friday, and then his father’s plunge moments later, apparently occurred because the boy never got properly seated on the chair, according to Aspen Skiing Co. officials.

In addition, a lift operator failed to follow proper procedure when the boy had difficulty, said Rose Abello, the Skico’s director of communications.

The two fell from the Summit Express lift at about 10:10 a.m. The father required hospitalization.

“They didn’t load well,” Abello said. “[The boy] never got fully on the chair, so the lift op ran along with the chair to try and get him settled into the chair. The lift op wasn’t able to stabilize [the boy] and he ran back to hit the stop button for the lift.

“The father, meanwhile, is reaching over another child to help his son, and the son fell off,” Abello said. “It seems like that unstabilized the father and then he fell, too.”

The accident occurred shortly after the man, 44, and his two sons, ages seven and eight, loaded onto the quad chairlift at the base of the mountain, along with an 11-year-old youth, according to Abello.

The foursome reportedly had not lowered the safety bar on the chair.

The names of the parties involved were not released by the Skico or Aspen Valley Hospital. The father and his sons are from Florida.

The boy fell off the high-speed lift at tower two, after it had traveled just a short distance from the loading station. The boy fell about 29 feet down, Abello said.

The boy’s father fell a second or two later, according to the Skico’s report. He fell about 30 feet to the ground.

Abello said riding from the loading area at the base to the point where the father fell off the chair takes about 25 seconds under normal operating conditions.

The lift operator who loaded the foursome apparently did not follow company procedures when the boarding trouble arose, Abello said.

“Our manual does say that if somebody is not on [the lift] right to shut the lift off using the stop button, not to run along next to the lift,” Abello said. “Our procedures were not followed.”

However, had the lift operator hit the stop button immediately, the lift would have continued to move some 18 to 22 feet, Abello said.

The eight-year-old was treated for minor injuries and released from Aspen Valley Hospital on Friday, according to Abello.

The father suffered a broken left femur and a cracked pelvis, according to the Skico report. An AVH spokesperson confirmed that he arrived at the hospital at 10:40 a.m. Friday and was in “serious” condition. The man remained in the hospital yesterday; his condition had been upgraded to “good,” a spokesperson said.

Customers, particularly children, seemed to receive extra attention at the Summit Express lift loading station Saturday. A ski patroller was helping lift operators load passengers and one dad had to assure a lift operator a couple of times that he was comfortable helping his daughter onto the lift by himself.

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