04/19/2006

Police rescue passengers from cable cars stuck high above NY's East River

By ELIZABETH LeSURE
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- Police rescued passengers from two cable cars that lost power high above the East River, plucking them one by one from the dangling cars and hoisting them on to a gondola.

What passengers thought would be a routine ride across the river between Manhattan and nearby Roosevelt Island became an hours-long ordeal Tuesday when a power failure left the cars dangling hundreds of feet in the air, authorities said.

The Roosevelt Island Tramway cars, which offer breathtaking views of the city from up to 250 feet high, stopped moving around 5:15 p.m., said Herb Berman, president of the agency that operates the system. No injuries were reported.

At least a dozen of those stranded were school-age children or babies. Police delivered food, water and diapers to the passengers.

The rescue effort moved smoothly but slowly, with officers in the gondola pulling alongside the cars and hoisting passengers up one at a time.

By early Wednesday, the passengers in the first car had been removed and the rescue effort had moved to the second car.

"It does seem to be working exactly the way it was designed," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said of the rescue at a news conference late Tuesday.

One of the tramcars had 46 passengers plus an operator, the other had 21 passengers and an operator, police said. Each car can hold about 125 people. No injuries were reported.

Tramcars on the system stall occasionally, the last time around Labor Day, said Berman, who did not know the cause of Tuesday's service outage. Police said both the main and backup power systems failed.

Lynn Krogh, spokeswoman for Gov. George Pataki, said the state Department of Labor would conduct a full investigation and review of the incident and the tram before service was allowed to resume.

Robbyn Maier said her 12-year-old son, Dax Maier, was going to Roosevelt Island to play tennis when he got stuck. She talked to him by cell phone.

"He's like a trouper through it all," she said. "He's really a little hero."

Once safely on the ground, Dax Maier said he told himself not to look down while being rescued. He said the mood in his car was almost festive, with people singing and telling jokes.

"Sometimes you can find great people in New York," he said.

The tram system, which opened in 1976, is the only commuter cable car system in North America, according to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. Web site.

The system has been featured in such movies as "Spider-Man" and "City Slickers." It travels 3,100 feet in about 5 minutes at an average speed of 16 mph, the Web site says.

Roosevelt Island, which lies in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is about 2 miles long and 800 feet wide. About 10,000 people live on the island, which also is accessible by bridge and subway.

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