CZ/SK verze

Kitzsteinhorn: The tragedy in Kaprun, Austria, in 2000 claimed 153 lives

Kitzsteinhorn: The tragedy in Kaprun, Austria, in 2000 claimed 153 lives
29 / 12 / 2021

With the ongoing ski season, our section brings a tragic story from the infamous ski village of Kaprun, where one cable car ride killed 155 people. The tragedy was one of the worst in Austrian history. The 3,203-meter high Kitzsteinhorn glacier mountain was approachable by two routes - a classic cable car with cabins and a local unique in the form of a fast train operating with a system of two oncoming trains.

 On November 11, 2000, around nine o'clock in the morning, a set almost full of passengers in ski boots set out from the lower end. After a few seconds of climbing the steep hill, the first passenger noted smoke at the bottom of the car. In the bottom cabin, which was empty and was used only for the way down, the heater ignited, and in a split second, the flame destroyed the hydraulic system filled with the highly flammable liquid. Due to the absence of an emergency button, the passengers could not warn the control unit, and the burning set drove into the tunnel. Because of the pressure loss in the burning hydraulics, the cable car ended its journey at 600 meters from the entrance. Because of the damaged hydraulic door opening, passengers could not get out. The guard did not notice the flames until they spread to the car and reported a fire a few seconds before the connection got inevitably lost. After persistent efforts, the passengers smashed the window with their ski poles, and one by one, began to wind themselves out into the tunnel. Most people instinctively ran upwards, of which just eleven of them got rescued by volunteer firefighter Thorsten Grädler who instructed them to escape down through the burning flames. It was his professional thinking that saved their lives. The tunnel became a chimney.

At 9:23, there were 500 firefighters, 22 helicopters, and about 100 rescue vehicles at the scene. At that moment, however, there was no way to save the passengers, and there was nothing left but to give up the action. A total of 152 passengers died in two cable cars, and three people passed away in a nearby shopping center, to which the poisonous smoke spread. 19-year-old ski star Sandra Schmitt was among the victims, including her Czech skiing instructor. Numerous victims could not get identified. According to the investigation, the faulty fan that caused the fire had nothing to do with the cabin. There were also faults in the hydraulic piping and the wrongly chosen material of the cable car equipment. A total of 16 individuals got pressed with charges but never got sentenced.

The Kitzsteinhorn cable car has ended. Today, a memorial dedicated to the victims stands at the accident.