Helicopter Hits Chamonix Cable Car

A private helicopter, carrying three people involved with piste security in the Argentiere sector of the Chamonix-Mont Blanc ski area has crashed after colliding with the cables of the Grands Montets cable car.

The accident occured at 2,600 meters altitude at 9h45 today.  The visibility was said to be good.  The helicopter, an Ecureuil B3 belonging to Chamonix Mont-Blanc Helicopters, collided with cables close to second pylon.  It had just made a U-turn to check on why an explosive charge had not detonated.

Daniel Pujol, the pilot was killed by the crash and Gérard Croz, a member piste patrol was dead on arrival at Sallanches hospital.  There has recently been controversy over the partial closure of Chamonix hospital with claims that the longer journey to Sallanches puts lives at risk.  The operation to rescue the third man was started by members of the piste patrol using cutting equipment and took most of the morning.  He is said to be out of immediate danger.

The Stricken Ecureuil B3, circled

Investigators from the Air Police (gendarmerie des transports aériens) based at Lyon airport were on the scene.  The cable car and pistes were shut at the time of the accident.  The helicopter was involved in avalanche clearance operations prior to opening the area to the public.

Cables are a major hazard to pilots in ski resorts and are normally well marked.  However accidents do happen, particuarly in bad weather conditions.  A helicopter crash at Flaine in February 2002 killed all four occupants after a collision with avalanche control cables. In March 1998 a US airforce fighter jet severed the cables of a ski lift in Cabalasi, Italy killing all 20 occupants of the cabin.

The severe weather conditions over recent days have caused problems in many ski areas.  The road to Le Mont Dore was blocked by a mud slide at 4am today and slides have also been reported in Méribel.  A cable car in the Fréjus sector of Serre Chevalier came off its cable this morning.  The accident happened as the cable car was being put into service.  The weight of snow on the roof destabilised the cabin causing it to strike a pylon.  No-one was in the cabin at the time and there are no reports of any injuries.  The prestigous Vanoise Express suffered from an accident earlier in the season when it crashed into the cable car station during tests.

At Val Thorens a snowslide triggered by avalanche control on the Glacier de Peclet using the Gazex system hit two members of the piste patrol, a mountain hut and the top station of the Funitel lift.  The patrollers were quickly rescued but the lift is now closed for repairs.

Many ski areas have closed their high altitude areas due to the risk of avalanche.  Meanwhile the search for the missing skier in the Brevent sector of Chamonix is continuing today although hopes of finding the man, missing since Sunday afternoon, alive are now fading.

Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 14 January, 2004 at 01:09 PM

The Funitel at Val Thorens is scheduled to reopen on the 7th February 2004, just in time for the big French school holiday break.

Posted by davidof on  Thursday, 29 January, 2004  at 06:58 PM
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