Thursday, August 24, 2023

'Death was down below': Battagram cable car survivor recalls horror of 'hanging by a hair'

"When the rope broke, we lost hope for life, after which we kept remembering Allah," says survivor Gulfaraz

Gulfaraz (right) stands with a fellow survivor in Battagram on August 23, 2023. — Photo by author
Gulfaraz (right) stands with a fellow survivor in Battagram on August 23, 2023. — Photo by author

PESHAWAR: After having a near-death experience, 20-year-old Gulfaraz shared a detailed account of the cable car incident in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's (KP) Battagram a day earlier, urging the government to provide better infrastructure for his village.

"When the rope broke, we lost hope for life, after which we kept remembering Allah," the young man said, speaking to Geo News in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

Gulfaraz said he arrived at the chairlift's site at 7am and sat on it around 7:30am. But two of the three cables of the ill-fated gondola broke mid-journey, leaving its commuters hanging in the middle of the valley at a whopping 600 feet.

Gulfaraz, who is one of the eight survivors of the stricken chairlift, said he and hundreds of other villagers in the remote areas of the province — including children women, and the elderly — are forced to travel in such traditionally-built means of transportation, risking their lives to make perilous journies and reach their destinations.

"There is no road, no bridge in our union council. The situation is terrible," he said, lamenting his dissatisfaction with the way he and other villagers are forced to travel through these cable cars.

Gulfaraz shared that there were schoolchildren with him in the chairlift, which is why the situation was more worrying. He also complained about the problem of mobile networks not functioning properly in the area.

"We received signals at 8:30am, after which contact was possible and the administration as well as the Pakistan Army reached the site once contact was established," he said, detailing how he was able to connect with locals and authorities over a phone call.

Commenting on the risky and unpredictable nature of the journey, the 20-year-old urged people to always carry food and drinks when travelling in such cable cars.

He demanded that the government build bridges and roads everywhere, maintaining that it is not poor and can ensure such facilities for the people of the province.

"No journey is possible in our areas without a cable car. Our area is deprived of bridges and roads. We are in dire need," he said.

After nearly 15 hours of effort, commandos of the Pakistan Army successfully rescued eight people who were stuck inside a cable car after one of its ropes broke down in Allai Tehsil in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Battagram district on Tuesday.

Before sunset, two of the children were rescued with the help of an army helicopter but the operation via copter was suspended due to darkness and the windy weather.

The army later started a ground operation — led by SSG's general officer commanding (GOC) — to retrieve the remaining five people on the cable car with alternative means.

Another cable car — smaller in size — was hung on the same cable to retrieve the people and deliver food and water to them. The Pakistan Army also brought in a local cable-crossing expert for help.

Pakistan Army Aviation and the Pakistan Air Force participated in the rescue operation along with the SSG troops.