On the evening of June 25, tragedy struck the Gulmarg ski resort in India’s Jammu and Kashmir, when seven people died during an accident on the Gulmarg Gondola.
Gulmarg is India’s premier ski resort, located in Baramulla district, and the mountain’s gondola is one of its biggest draws. Construction of the two-stage gondola was a major project during the 1990s and 2000s, and upon completion, it became the longest cable car in Asia. The gondola whisks riders upward nearly 1,300 meters, to an elevation of roughly 3,747 meters.
The resort is also chock full of off-piste skiing and snowboarding opportunities—in fact, the majority of the terrain is off-piste. Once off few main trails, skiers find themselves exploring territory reminiscent of France’s La Grave. Most of it is accessed from the gondola.
The accident this past Sunday occurred when high winds blew over a tree, which severed the gondola’s cable as it fell. One of the gondola cars plummeted to the ground, killing all seven individuals inside. The severed cable had a diameter of 4.05 centimeters and a breaking load of 116,000 kilograms, giving an idea of just how much force was involved when the tree impacted the line.
The deceased include four Indian tourists—Jayant Andraskar, Manisha Andraskar, Anagha Andraskar and Janhvi Andraskar—and three guides—Farooq Ahmad Chopan, Mukhtar Ahmad and Jahangir Ahmad. An additional 150 people were stranded in the gondola’s other cars for upwards of two hours before rescuers were able to get everyone out.
The accident is the first major snafu involving the Gulmarg Gondola. Past deaths on the mountain have mostly been caused by avalanches, such as when Bashir Ahmad Bakshi died in 2015.
In the aftermath of the accident, questions have been raised about why standard operating procedures were not observed. On Twitter, Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, wrote, “If this is what happened it begs the question as to why the cable car operations weren’t suspended in high winds. That’s a laid down SOP.”
Current Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has already launched a full investigation into the events, addressing causes and potential negligence. Aside from the official investigation already underway, The Kashmir Monitor also reported that the Jammu and Kashmir State Cable Car Corporation, which runs the Gulmarg Gondola, is considering cutting down trees along the cable car’s path to help prevent future accidents of the same type.