Teenage boys rescued from a stranded cable car that dangled over a deep Pakistan ravine for more than 12 hours walked to school on Wednesday to collect their exam results.
Six students were among eight people rescued on Tuesday by military helicopters and local zipline experts as night fell in the remote Allai valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
They were taking the chairlift to school as usual — with three due to collect their end of year exam results — when two of the three cables snapped.
“When this incident happened, I forgot everything. All I remembered at that time was my mother and God,” said 18-year-old Niaz Muhammad from Pashto village.
On Wednesday the three students walked two hours to school along a hilly path to find out they had passed their exams, before they sought further medical check-ups.
Some of the passengers told AFP that several times they lost hope in ever being rescued, and had considered leaping from the chairlift.
“Some of the children were so frustrated and were considering to jump down, but the elder passenger gave us confidence,” 15-year-old Rizwan Ullah told AFP.
“When the cable car was twisting, we were terrified and we started reciting the Koran and gave confidence to each other not to jump down.”
Helicopters flew repeated sorties over the cable car throughout the afternoon as they planned the rescue mission.
At one point an airman was lowered to deliver food and water, but the air pressure from the helicopter caused him to collide with a rope holding the cable car, causing it to twist and shake.
“When the helicopter arrived and left without rescue we lost hope,” said 25-year-old Gul Faraz, a shopkeeper who was in the cable car.
“During the whole process we thought we would die. There were some times when we thought we would not survive.”
– ‘Heroes of the nation’ –
Residents used mosque loudspeakers to alert neighbourhood officials of the emergency, and hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the ravine — hours away from any sizeable town — to watch the drama unfold.
Syed Hammad Haider, a senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial official, said the gondola was hanging about 1,000 to 1,200 feet above the ground.
The daring rescue finally began at dusk with a helicopter plucking a child from the chairlift but the chopper was forced back to base as bad weather closed in and night fell.
Then, commandos from Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG) — known as the Maroon Berets — and local experts used the cable keeping the gondola from plunging into the valley as a zipline to rescue the rest of those stranded.
The two adults were the last to be brought to safety.
Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar called the rescuers “heroes of the nation”.
“Great team work by the military, rescue departments, district administration as well as the local people,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
– ‘I thought of my mother’ –
Eighteen-year-old Muhammad, who has just started his final year of high school, feels as if he has been given “a second life”.
“It was the most terrifying time of my life. I forgot everything but my mother. I thought only of my mother,” he told AFP.
“When I reached my home she was waiting for me at the gate, we hugged each other, she kissed me and we were in tears. It was very emotional for both of us.
Cable cars that carry passengers — and sometimes even cars — are common across the northern areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan, and are vital in connecting villages and towns in areas where roads cannot be built.
The prime minister has ordered them closed throughout the province for a week while safety inspections are carried out.
But Muhammad, like others in the village, said despite his ordeal, he has no option but to return to using the cable car.
Originally published as Students rescued from cable car collect exam results