On a Tuesday morning, 20-year-old Usama Sharif, still in the 10th grade, set out from his mud-brick residence in the mountainside village of Pashto in northwest Pakistan. His father recounted that he treaded a dusty path toward a cable car that would convey him across a vast mountain gorge to school.
The cable car was vital to the secluded village in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province’s mountains. This system simplified what would otherwise be a grueling journey, be it for students heading to school or ill villagers seeking hospital care.
However, that usual ride soon became a dangerous ordeal. Two of the car’s supporting cables broke a few moments into their journey, leaving Mr. Sharif and seven fellow passengers, several schoolchildren, hanging high above the ground.
Military teams commenced a nerve-wracking 12-hour-long rescue. Initially, a helicopter rope extracted two individuals.
The Pakistani military acknowledged the challenging nature of the operation, praising the rescuers’ exceptional skills. Pakistan’s acting prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, celebrated the success on social media, lauding the collaborative effort of various groups.
In northern Pakistan’s mountainous terrain, cable cars have become common transportation. Navigating winding roads on steep inclines or delving into valleys can be time-consuming, even for short distances. The makeshift system in Pashto, bridging the Allai valley, epitomized this – a humble, rickshaw-like car with weathered cables spanning mountain tops. On this particular Tuesday, the passengers, children aged 10-15, were en route to school. But around 8:30 a.m., their journey was abruptly interrupted, leaving the car hanging by seemingly a lone cable.
By afternoon, military helicopters were dispatched, and local television depicted a commando descending with supplies. A passenger revealed to local media their six-hour confinement without provisions. As the helicopter approached, the car’s erratic movements made aerial rescue challenging and nerve-wracking. According to Mufti Ghulamullah, the mayor of Allai borough, the helicopter’s wind gusts caused the cable car to sway, inducing fear among the trapped passengers.
Helicopter missions had to cease when night set in, which led to the employment of zip lines. Finally, by 11 p.m., the long-awaited news broke: all passengers were safely rescued. Social media videos later depicted two children, equipped with safety harnesses, arriving to safety via the zip line.