Investigators still searching for reasons behind Quicksilver accident
The investigation team looking into last Saturday’s fatal Quicksilver chair accident on Whistler Mountain has eliminated a number of theories but is still trying to determine the cause of the accident.
David Perry, Whistler Mountain’s marketing director, said Wednesday the chair which started a chain reaction, causing four chairs to fall to the ground, was gripped to the line when it left the top terminal. The "high grip switch" which indicates that a chair is securely gripped to the line, was working.
The lift towers uphill from the accident have also been inspected and determined not to have been a factor. An inspection of the grips on all four chairs also shows there were no missing or broken parts. The RCMP have removed all the grips for further analysis by the investigation team.
Trevor MacDonald, 25, of Vancouver was killed when the chair he and two others were riding down the mountain fell approximately 70 feet to the ground. The accident occurred shortly after 3 p.m. when many of the day’s skiers were downloading from midstation to the Whistler Creek area.
Investigators have concluded that the chair MacDonald was in became detached on a steep section of the line above Coaches Corner on the Dave Murray Downhill. The chair slid down the line and crashed into the chair in front of it. At that point the first chair fell to the ground.
The second chair became detached when struck from behind and slid down the line, crashing into a third chair. The two chairs then slid down the line and crashed into another chair. When the three chairs collided with the sheave assembly of tower 21 all three fell to the ground.
Eleven people, including MacDonald, were injured. One person may be paraplegic; the others are expected to recover.
"We don’t know why one grip slipped," Perry said.
He added he was unaware of an accident of this type — where a chair becomes detached in the middle of a line — happening anywhere else.
Ski patrol and volunteers spent four hours Saturday rescuing people from the chair. Hotels provided blankets and services while volunteers helped at the medical clinic and at Whistler Creek.
There were early reports that the first chair was swinging prior to becoming disengaged, but Perry said there’s no indication that’s the case.
An investigation team, including representatives from the aerial tramways branch of the Ministry of Transportation, the coroner, RCMP and Whistler Mountain’s lift maintenance personnel, began work Boxing Day. A representative of the lift manufacturer, Lift Engineering, of Nevada, was expected to join the investigation team Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.
The Quicksilver chair, and its sister lift, the Redline, were both installed in 1991. A chair fell off the Quicksilver during pre-season testing this year. Following that incident engineers recommended a piece on all the grips be re-welded and the welds be re-milled. That was done at a cost of $50,000.
Two chairs became detached on the Redline in its first season of operation. Both instances were blamed on human error — in one case a representative of the lift manufacturer jumped into a chair as it was accelerating, causing it to bounce just as the grip was about to engage. The other instance was a similar bouncing of the chair at the time of engagement. In both instances the lift stopped automatically and there were no injuries.
Meanwhile, Perry says reports that Whistler Mountain has acted callously towards MacDonald’s family are inaccurate. He says he called MacDonald’s sister the night of the accident and was told the family didn’t want to talk to him at that time.
Perry says he then provided her with Whistler Mountain President Doug Forseth’s direct line, in the event they wanted any further information.
Also, MacDonald’s car was impounded when it was left in the Whistler Creek lot. Someone did call the family to ask them to pick up the car, but it was not a Whistler Mountain employee. Whistler Mountain made arrangements to have the car delivered to the family home.
Perry and Gord Ahrens, Whistler Mountain’s director of employee relations, spent Boxing Day in Vancouver, visiting the people injured in the accident.