Skyline accident under investigation 

Woman falls 15 metres from aerial zip line, air lifted to Vancouve

The Whistler RCMP and B.C. Safety Authority (BCSA) are investigating a serious accident that occurred at Cougar Mountain’s Skyline aerial ride on Sunday, Aug. 26 at roughly 4:30 p.m.

According to the RCMP report, a 20-year-old woman fell nearly 15 metres, or 50 feet, from her harness. Emergency Services brought the woman to the Whistler Health Care Centre, and she was later air lifted to Vancouver General Hospital for treatment.

Cougar Mountain owners Kevin Smith and Kevin Brownlee did not return calls for comment.

The Province newspaper reported on Monday that a guide failed to strap the woman in properly.

The paper reported she broke both ankles in the fall. Others have suggested that she may have broken her pelvis, several ribs, and may have had internal injuries.

The RCMP are investigating the incident for any sign of foul play.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Safety Authority has temporarily revoked Cougar Mountain’s permit to operate the Skyline while they conduct their own investigation.

Greg Paddon, the provincial safety manager for the BCSA in the passenger ropeway and amusement ride division, confirmed the suspension of Cougar Mountain’s permit.

“The goal of the BCSA is to ensure public safety, and until the cause of the incident is known and we’re certain that the amusement device is safe to operate can we reissue operating permits for all those zip lines,” he said.

Paddon confirmed that there have been a total of three incidents reported on Skyline since it was opened in 2006. He would not elaborate on the nature of the other two incidents but said they are all related to operational issues.

“One of the areas we’re focusing on is operation error, although we haven’t ruled out other causes,” he said.

Paddon does not expect this investigation to take long, but said it will take a while to get all the information together. He added that the woman, who was visiting from outside Canada, was seriously injured but is in stable condition. He hopes to speak to her sometime this week.

The final report from the BCSA, which also regulates chairlifts in British Columbia, will determine what, if any, operational changes are required by Cougar Mountain before the company’s operating permit can be restored.

Meanwhile, Cougar Mountain is not the only tour company feeling the effects of the incident. According to Dave Udow, co-owner of Ziptrek Ecotours, they have had several phone calls from anxious customers — many of whom have confused Skyline and Ziptrek.

“Since this happened two days ago our phones have been ringing non-stop from people who want to know what happened, and a few have called to cancel their tours,” Udow said Tuesday.

Udow added that he is glad the accident is under investigation, and hopes the industry will be safer as a result.

“Our initial reaction was one of shock and sadness, and concern for the injured woman,” he said. “We support the decision to close Skyline while the B.C. Safety Authority investigates… and makes sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. For some customers who can’t distinguish between Ziprek and Skyline, it doesn’t matter that our system is totally different, or that we’ve been around longer, or have something like 1.5 million zips without this kind of incident.”

Udow stresses that Skyline and Ziptrek are completely unrelated as companies, use different methods for zipping along cables, and have different training and safety processes. Udow says the confusion between companies is understandable, given that Ziptrek has been around a lot longer and people now refer to riding zip lines as “ziptrekking”.

No provincial standards currently exist for ziplines, and companies are evaluated individually before being licensed — something that Udow says will have to change. Both the B.C. Safety Authority and American National Standards Institute have asked Ziptrek to help set safety standards for the industry.

“There’s a negative impact to all of us when these types of accidents happen,” he said.

“There needs to be certain minimum standards, if not overall standards… just like there are for chairlifts. Everyone can do things slightly differently, but there is still a minimum standard.”

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