[UPDATE: 6:10 p.m. ET] A chairlift cable rope derailed at Sugarloaf Resort in Maine's Carrabasset Valley at 10:30 a.m this morning (Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010). Six skiers/riders have been treated and transported off the mountain. Five chairs dropped 30-40 feet to the snow carrying passengers. Early reports are that none of the injuries were "life threatening." However, a new report in the Portland Press-Telegram notes that one of the injured was flown by helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland, suggesting a serious injury.
Sugarloaf spokesperson Ethan Austin issued at statement at 1 p.m. noting that "the cause of accident is still unknown and is being investigated." (CNN reported earlier the derailment was caused by "a gust of wind.") High winds were buffeting the mountain a day following a blizzard. Austin said "all available mountain safety personnel were at the scene and all remaining guests have been successfully evacuated from the lift."
A follow-up statement was released by Sugarloaf at 5 p.m. ET reporting that an inspector from the Maine Board of Elevator and Trtamway Safety arrived during the afternoon to conduct an investigation into the cause of the derailment. The release also noted a seventh passenger, checked at the scene and reported to be "fine," was later taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington after reporting he was feeling some pain. Austin said the resort plans normal operations of its lifts the rest of the week with the exception of the Spillway East chair.
Comments speculating on the safety of the lift were removed from the resort's Facebook page during the afternoon, noting in a post that "speculating or trafficking in rumors won't help anyone. Please refrain from doing so."
Austin said the Spillway East chair is a two-passenger monocable fixed grip chairlift manufactured and installed by Borvig in 1975. The lift is 4,013 feet long with a vertical of 1,454 feet. It moves at a speed of 500 feet per minute and chairs are 50 feet apart.
"The chairlift receives routine daily inspections for safety and gets weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance and testing. It is also inspected annually by the Maine Board of Elevator and Tramway Safety. Spillway East runs to the top of the Sluice Headwall, accessing terrain below the Spillway X-Cut.
The Bangor Daily News is reporting that Sugarloaf General Manager John Diller had said in an Aug. 31 press conference that "replacing the Spillway lift was our No. 1 priority." He said it would be replaced by a heavier lift that would work in the wind."
"Sugarloaf Mountain and its employees are concerned for the people involved," Austin wrote in a prepared statement. "Additionally, the resort would like to express gratitude to all the safety personnel that have responded to this incident."
There were approximately 220 skiers/riders were on the lift during this extra busy holiday week.. A reader of the Portland Press-Herald told that newspaper he was one of the first to be evacuated and that process went smoothly.
An Associated Press report quotes a rider on a lift next to the one that broke down said the cable had come off the lift wheels and was bouncing. The derailment occurred on the Spillway East chairlift at 10:30 a.m., according to resort officials
OnTheSnow will continue to follow this breaking news story and will update with details as they become available.