3 Dead After a Rescue Operation of Stuck Cable Cars Went Horribly Wrong

“I will probably never enter a cable car ever again in my life.”
Pallavi Pundir
Jakarta, ID
India, trikut hills, ropeway, accident, indian air force, rescue operation
In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, 59 tourists dangled mid-air in cable cars for 46 hours without food or water. A daunting rescue operation went viral as three fell to their deaths. Image: Obtained from Pappu Kumar Singh

Rakesh Singh and his family stepped into the cable car at a famous Indian tourist attraction when the worst thing that could happen on an aerial ropeway began to unfold in front of his eyes.

“We heard a loud crack. The cars started swinging violently,” the 35-year-old told VICE World News. 

Singh happened to be a few cable cars behind the two that collided violently on the popular Trikut Hill ropeway, located in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, on Sunday. One of the highest vertical ropeways in India, its highest ascent is 1,500 feet from the ground.


Singh fainted from the impact, and when he regained consciousness, he saw two members of his family with injuries on their heads. “We tried to scream and talk to people in the other cars, but nothing came out. It was just the beginning,” he said. 

In the next few hours, three of their fellow riders in separate cars plunged to their deaths during a daunting rescue operation that lasted nearly two days—and went horribly wrong, leading to one of the worst cable car accidents in the country in recent memory.

In videos that have transfixed the country, a 50-year-old woman is seen slipping and falling after a part of cable carrying the cars snapped, while a 35-year-old man slipped and fell just as he was about to reach a rescue helicopter dispatched by the Indian Air Force. The third death was of a 60-year-old woman who fell after her rope broke mid-rescue, as her family members anxiously waited for her near the rescue site. 

They were the tragic fatalities of a rescue operation that successfully saved 56 people in challenging conditions, including 11 children.


The director of Jharkhand’s tourism department, which operates the cable car service in Trikut Hill, said the collision was caused by a dislodged ropeway axle. But the state’s chief minister has ordered an investigation and directed local officials to initiate a police case after the probe is concluded. 

The rescuers worked against the gusty wind and extreme height. Manjunath Bhajantri, the administrative head of Deoghar district, where Trikut Hill is located, told the media that the big challenge in the rescue was to make sure that the choppers didn’t touch the cables while pulling people out.

Pappu Kumar Singh, a local guide who witnessed the incident and rushed to help, told VICE World News about the aftermath of the collision. “One chamber crashed against the rocks, and the windows broke. One woman got glass shards in her eyes, and kids were hurt,” he said. “Then I saw the two people plunging to the ground. That visual is stuck in my mind, and I am still shell shocked.”

Pappu said that he used rope harnesses to throw water bottles and other supplies to the cable cars closest to the ropeway platform. “Inside the chambers, I saw blood everywhere and people were sitting in deathly silence,” Pappu said. “It was painful to see people, especially children, like this.” 


One survivor, Vinay Kumar Das, told the media that he and the others stuck in that car had to pee in bottles.

The deadly incident has drawn scrutiny to Damodar Ropeways and Infra Limited, the company that installed the ropeway. Indian media have reported on allegations that the contractor failed to maintain it or carry out rescue drills, a protocol that is mandated but is rarely followed. 

The Indian Express reported that an audit of the ropeway just a month before the disaster highlighted several technical snags that merited close attention. 

In the past, several ropeway accidents have been reported, where ropeways either snapped or cable cars got dislodged and fell. Across the world, too, similar accidents were reported. Last year, in Italy, a cable car plunged from 65 feet, killing 14 people. 

On Thursday, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs ordered all states to prepare standard operating procedures and contingency plans on their ropeways.

“My body is still shaking from the incident,” said Wakil Raj, a 30-year-old passenger who was rescued. “But surviving this feels like a second life.”

Rakesh Singh, too, was given a second life. But the experience left a scar.

“I will probably never enter a cable car ever again in my life.” 

Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.