The Spillway East skilift at Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain derailed Tuesday, sending at least two injured skiers to Franklin Memorial Hospital.
CNN is reporting that five trapped skiers have been released in what its reporter on site terms an “incredibly organized” rescue effort. The complete evacuation was expected to take an hour to an hour and a half. While 100 skiers were stranded in the chairs, they were the lucky ones. The riders on the derailed side of the chairlift were sent tumbling 25 to 30 feet to the mountain below, according to an official press release from Sugarloaf Mountain. Sugarloaf reported six injuries, none believed to be life-threatening. 220 riders were on the lift when it derailed at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. All of the chairs on the side of the lift that derailed fell to the ground.
One of the more noteworthy aspects of this emergency is the use of Sugarloaf Mountain’s Facebook page to spread the news of developments on the mountain. The latest post as of 12:25 p.m. is a press release informing the public of the status of evacuation efforts.
A woman who said she left the mountain 10 minutes before the accident suspected high winds as the cause of the derailment.
Sugarloaf’s Facebook page captures the change of mood on the mountain once the derailment occurred.
Before the accident, skiers posted about skiing conditions. One poster asked whether he’d be likely to encounter ungroomed powder. Another posted video of the 20 inches of snowfall Monday. Which are the best trails? When are the stomping grounds re-opening?
Shop talk took a serious turn beginning with a post about chair evacuations, posted by Mark Freileigh, who was one of the skiers evacuated from the chair lift but who seemed to not know of events on the other side:
“ya i was one of the first chairs to the top to be evacuated. started off like any normal spillway chair ride, off and on stops with the wind. we knew something was wrong when after it started up one of the times there was a lot of bouncing … and turbulance and then it stopped again and the lift at the top by the shack seemed to be sitting crooked. then it was probably 15-20 minutes of classic sugarloaf subzero degree windrape until evac started. i was lucky and was only 3 chairs or so from the top of the lift, only about 20 ft off the ground. honestly it was a pretty interesting while intense experience…”
A subsequent post announced that there had been a derailment. Sugarloaf Mountain was quick to post that ski patrol was conducting evacuations and all injuries appeared to be minor, and later posted its press release updating the public on the evacuation effort.
At least one reporter tried to contact Freileigh through the Facebook page. This chairlift crash demonstrates the pervasive role social media has come to play in spreading news.