BATTAGRAM: Pakistan Army successfully rescued four children who were among those stranded in a chairlift since Tuesday morning in Battagram city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after a cable broke.
The children, who were going to school and met with the dreadful accident, were airlifted by a helicopter in a sling operation. Efforts are under way to shift the remining people to safe place.
A large number of people, who are observing the operation, raised slogans in favour of the army after the two children were successfully rescued in the fourth attempt.
The rescue operation through helicopter has been suspended due to darkness and weather conditions while the ground operations will continue to take the stranded people to safety.
Six schoolchildren and two teachers were stranded since 7am when they were using the chairlift to get to the school in a mountainous area about 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Islamabad.
Officials said the rescue mission was complicated by gusty winds in the area and the helicopters’ rotor blades risked destabilising the cable car.
Special services troops, trained in sling operations, are also involved in this “extremely dangerous and risky operation”.
Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar expressed concern in a post on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“…I have also directed the authorities to conduct safety inspections of all such private chairlifts and ensure that they are safe to operate and use,” he said in a post.
The KP chief minister also directed the authorities concerned to utilise all availabe resources to rescue the teachers and schoolchildren.
Those in the know of the efforts being undertaken to rescue the stranded people said it was a “unique operation” and had to be carried out with a great deal of caution as the helicopter had to be carefully taken to the place to avoid unnecessary air pressure near the chairlift.
They said the rescue operation could take time and any hasty decision could prove counter-productive as it involved human lives.
Earlier, the district emergency officer said a team of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) had been sent for rescue activities. He said it’s almost impossible to rescue the victims without a helicopter.
A Rescue 1122 spokesman, Bilal Faizi, said it would take up to two and a half hours to reach the place.
Caretaker Minister for Information Murtaza Solangi said the rescue operation was in “full swing”.
Gulfraz, one of those trapped in the chairlift, told media that they had been stranded for six hours and one of the children had been unconscious for quite some time as he had cardiac issues. He said the chairlift was precariously hung as strong wind was blowing and an immediate rescue operation was the need of the hour.
He said there was no water and the mobile phone battery was losing its charging, so communication might not be possible.
According to the details provided by the PDMA, the people stranded in the chairlift were Ibrar, Irfan, Gulfraz, Usama, Rizwanullah, Attaullah, Niaz Muhammad and Sher Nawaz.
Allai Assistant Commissioner Jawad Hussain said two helicopters – one of Pakistan Army and the other of Pakistan Air Force – were on the spot. He said the operation was being conducted by the armed forces’ special unit.
Media reports said a commando had tried two times to approach the cable car. The helicopter moved away and a backup helicopter is flying above the cable car.
The AC said the Rescue 1122 teams would start efforts from the ground via a snorkel if the choppers fail to rescue the trapped people.
“We have also called locals from Shangla’s Besham who have experience in conducting similar rescue operations near the Diamer-Bhasha dam,” the AC added.
He said the Rescue 1122 teams were trying to spread nets under the cable car.
The cable car is privately run by locals for transportation across rivers as no roads or bridges are constructed in the area.
Although the height where the students and teachers are stranded is not yet known, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) estimated it to be 1,000-2,000ft.
Shariq Riaz Khattak, a rescue official, told Reuters that the rescue mission was complicated due to gusty winds in the area and the fact the helicopters’ rotor blades risk further destabilising the lift. Moreover, sunset in Battagram is expected at 6:48pm.
Bilawal expresses concerns
Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto said in a statements that helicopters should be sent to save the children and teachers in the chairlift.
He also prayed for the safety of the children and teachers trapped in the chairlift.