As details emerge about the harrowing New Year’s Day rescue on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, the extraordinary calm of the passengers and the work done by first responders is becoming increasingly impressive.
Twenty-one passengers dangled in two tram cars for 15 hours after a cable iced over in bad weather Friday night. Nineteen TEN 3 restaurant employees and two tram operators were finally rescued Saturday afternoon.
Restaurant employee Colleen Elvidge said those packed into the ice-coated tram car joked about last wishes and wills as they dangled and swayed in whiteout conditions.
Employees closed the mountaintop restaurant around 8:45 p.m. Friday due to increasingly bad weather and were in the last tram car of the day headed down Sandia Peak. Meanwhile, a tram employee was stranded alone hundreds of feet off the ground in another car headed up.
Authorities pondered options before deciding to inch the cars to a tower and use ropes to lower passengers. Benny Abruzzo, 63, owner of the tram, the Sandia Peak Ski Area and Sandia Peak’s TEN 3 Restaurant, and area manager of the ski area Paul Johnson hiked to the tower, climbed it, came through the tram car’s roof hatch and provided extra provisions for the group. Abruzzo’s son, Ben, and mountain guide John Kear joined the rescue, which involved lowering passengers one by one by rope to the ground. Then, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot and Undersheriff Larry Koren shuttled a few at a time to safety from a landing spot on the mountain.
The fact that all passengers got back on solid ground without any known injuries to them or rescuers is a testament to the agility and ability of them and the rescue team. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office collaborated with Bernalillo County Fire Department, N.M. State Police, the Sandia team and others in the rescue.
The tramway car stopped around 10 p.m. and authorities say it wasn’t reported to 911 until 2:11 a.m. That’s a delay that raises questions. Dangling in a tramway car for hours without notifying authorities hardly inspires others to take the tram.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.