By Alaa Elassar and Melissa Alonso, CNN
Officials have rescued 21 people who were trapped on the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico for more than 12 hours during icy conditions Friday night.
The Bernalillo County Fire Department received a call around 2 a.m. to assist in search and rescue efforts, after a tram got stuck while traveling down the tramline, Deputy Chief of Operations Brian Rose said in a news conference Saturday.
“We are happy to report that at this time all people needing rescue from the Tram cars have been rescued and are safely at base,” the Bernalillo County Fire Department said on Twitter. “We still have rescue personnel on the mountain who are hiking out due to difficulty in making access with the helicopter. We will update when all clear.”
The passengers were trapped in the carriages midair when two tram cars became stuck due to moisture and winds causing ice to form on the tramline, Sandia Peak Tramway General Manager Michael Donovan told KRQE.
Sandia Peak Tramway has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.
“I could assume that weather would be a factor in all that because it was cold, it was really windy, the elevation is really high up there, and the rain that was taking place last night,” Bernalillo County Sheriff (BCSO) spokesperson Jayme Fuller told CNN. “It wouldn’t be a very fun ride.”
Colleen Elvidge, one of the passengers trapped inside the tramcar, posted photos on Facebook showing people huddled and covered in blankets while waiting to be rescued.
“Been stuck in tram since 9p….rescue happening soon,” Elvidge captioned the post.
The majority of the people stuck in the tram cars were employees attempting “to leave the restaurant at the top of the peak and go home for the evening,” Fuller said.
Rescue officials were able to reach the passengers to give them blankets, food and water to survive and stay as comfortable as possible while a rescue plan was devised, Spenser Moreland, New Mexico Search and Rescue incident commander, said during the news conference Saturday.
BCSO Metro Air initially worked on taking supplies to the stranded passengers before deciding on a full evacuation, said Fuller.
At 12:30 p.m., air units began removing one to four people at a time by lowering each individual out using a rope system from the tram car and safely onto the ground. They were then escorted to a small landing zone where they were evacuated by helicopter in small groups, Moreland said.
“Metro Air Support has picked up the final remaining passenger and our mission is complete! Rescue crews hiked off the mountain and they are almost back to base,” the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.
“What an incredible effort by all involved! Happy New Year, everyone is safe, and we are grateful for the positive outcome,” the sheriff’s office added.
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