Above: Operators check a cable car of the Gulmarg Gondola. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)
Seven people are reported dead and at least four injured after a tragic incident at the Gulmarg gondola in Kashmir. Among the fatalities are a family of four (Jayant Andraskar, his wife Manshea Andraskar and their two children) and three locals, although at present there seems to be a level of confusion over the exact sequence of events that led to their deaths.
Above - ANI news photos seem to suggest the cabin remained suspended.
However, Riyaz Ahmad, the manager of the gondola's operating company, claimed that the tree only derailed the cable, causing the cabin to drop down but crucially not hit the ground. He states that in the resulting motion the glass windows smashed, and the occupants were thrown from the car, which may go some way to explaining why there haven't been more fatalities from other cabins.
One point of contention is whether the gondola should even have been running in such high winds. Mr Ahmad claims that the gust that provoked the incident was sudden, and that the system is set to automatically halt in strong winds. Furthermore, according to Mr Ahmed, since the tree involved in the collision was adjacent to another that had fallen first (causing a domino effect) the accident was "an act of God" which the ownership could not have forseen.
Nevertheless, the event asks serious questions of the system's safety, and the explanations so far will do little to console friends and family of the victims involved. Whether perspex cabin construction, better tree management, or more stringent monitoring of weather were necessary, it certainly seems like an avoidable eventuality.
In a region fraught with decades of political dispute and armed conflict, Gulmarg's rise to fame as an adventurous destination for comitted powder hounds has provided a rare good news story. We hope that some clarity can be provided by the ongoing investigation to prevent any future repeat and ensure the recent flow of winter tourists doesn't come to an abrupt stop.