On this day in 2000, a cable car taking skiers to a glacier in Austria caught fire as it passed through a mountain tunnel.
Kitzsteinhorn Mountain in the Austrian Alps is a popular skiing and snowboarding destination located just south of Salzburg. In order to reach the mountain’s prime skiing locations, it is necessary to take a cable car from the town of Kaprun into the mountains and through a 4km tunnel. The 90-foot-long car is pulled by a cable along train-like tracks.
On the morning of 11 November, the car left at 9am for its journey up the mountain; but within two minutes, flames were spotted shooting from the car. The cable car had just entered the concrete tunnel shaft when a disruption indicator, part of the car’s safety system, automatically stopped it.
Quickly, the tunnel filled with toxic smoke, but the car’s doors wouldn’t open. A man managed to smash the rear window and 11 people were able to crawl out the back to a stairway that led several hundred metres down to the entrance. The other passengers were not so fortunate.
Although some passengers were able to make it out of the front of the car and attempted to climb to the top of the tunnel, the tunnel acted as a chimney sending flames and smoke straight up. In fact, the driver of the corresponding car coming down the tunnel was burned near the exit at the top.
Three other people who were near the top of the tunnel also burned to death. The fire burned all day, as it was not until that evening that workers could get to the train.
Once there, they encountered bodies that were burned and charred beyond recognition. One worker later said, “I don’t want to describe it for the sake of the families”.
An inquiry into the fire’s cause revealed that a space heater in the driver’s cabin had caused the hydraulic oil in a pipe to overheat and leak on to a plastic seat, where it ignited.
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