TWO families have described their fears at being left dangling 30ft above a ski resort for more than an hour when the chairlift they were on broke down.
Their ordeal began after three open lift cars crashed to the ground at the Lecht ski centre on Tuesday – leaving five children and one adult with leg and spinal injuries.
The lifts remained closed yesterday as bad weather hampered an investigation into the cause of the incident.
Witnesses say three cars had bunched up at a support pylon before proceeding up the hill, but when another three cars did the same thing there was a crunching noise as a cable carrying them came off the pylon.
Iain Troup, 33, a commercial manager from Kintore near Aberdeen, and his six-year-old son Cameron were among more than 30 people stranded when the chairlift ground to a stop.
He said: "The cars began jumping up and down. That's when I realised something quite serious had happened.
"It was really pretty scary, particularly for the children. I had my young son Cameron with me. He had been on his first snowboarding lesson."
Mr Troup said he saw something was wrong at one of the support pylons and someone in the car ahead of them shouted he did not think it looked good.
He added: "Everybody was getting worried. We were concerned, to put it mildly. My main concern was Cameron's lips were turning blue. He was terrified and freezing. He kept saying 'daddy are we going to fall? Are we going to get hurt?'
"There was a big loop in the cable after the cars crashed, but we were okay because we were counter-balanced.
"They dealt with the injured people first, then came to the rest of us one by one. There was a guy on a sort of pulley who swung his way down to each car to make sure each person was properly in the harness before they were lowered to the ground one at a time.
"Cameron went first. He was excited because I told him Fireman Sam was coming to get him down. We were maybe an hour and 10 minutes in the chairlift before we got down."
Theresa Bastiman-Davies, from Reading, was stranded with her eight-year-old son. Her husband, Stephen, was on the ground with another child and took a photograph – used in later editions of yesterday's Herald –that showed rescuers freeing the pair. Mrs Bastiman-Davies said: "The chairlift suddenly stopped and I could see something nasty had happened. We did not know what was going on. It was very, very cold. The wind was blowing through us. But we were calm. We just had to cuddle up, and sit there and wait."
The severe winter weather has hampered the start of investigations into the accident by the Health and Safety Executive and Grampian Police.
Two of the injured children were discharged from the Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital yesterday. NHS Grampian said one adult and two children were still in hospital for treatment and were in a satisfactory condition. The fifth child was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and is recovering well.
In a statement, the Lecht Ski Company praised several doctors skiing at the centre who joined its trained ski patrols in helping at the scene. It said staff trained regularly for such situations, describing it as a textbook rescue.
"We are determined to find out why this incident happened and to ensure the Lecht continues to offer safe sport," it added.