Lantau Island's Ngong Ping 360 has suspended its service indefinitely after an empty cable car fell to the ground last night in what was the most serious accident involving the system after it began its operations last year.
Although there was no casualty, the incident has aroused much concern over the safety of the skyrail, which was plagued by frequent operational glitches since its opening last year.
The accident took place at 8:20 pm. The cable car landed on the slope at the foot of a tower near the first angle station from the Ngong Ping station, a spot close to the Chek Lap Kok Road South.
Since the incident happened after the cable car system had been closed down for the day, there were no passengers in the car, which could carry as many as 17 persons - 10 seated and 7 standing.
And since the place was a remote spot on the hillslope, there was nobody trapped underneath either.
Personnel from the cable car operator - Skyrail-ITM - rushed to the scene where the cable car was lodged upside down among some bushes. There were signs of damages on the outside of the car and its doors had broken off. Component parts connecting the car to the cable above were also found lying next to the wreckage.
Darkness made the search difficult as there were no street lights on the hillslope. With makeshift illumination from spotlights and flashlights, and with the help of firemen, the manufacturer's engineers and the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, people from the cable car company investigated the scene and the cable car's wreckage to determine the cause of the incident.
The skyrail system was closed for three days from June 5 for annual inspection, and its service only resumed last Friday.
At about 11:00 pm, Skyrail-ITM's chief executive officer Bill Calderwood told the press the cable car was dislodged after the system was closed down for the day.
He said that the skyrail service would be suspended until the cause of the accident has been determined. All possibilities would be looked into, but he did not think the accident was related to the weather. He stressed that passengers' safety was the company's number-one concern.
The Mass Transit Railway Corporation, which owns the skyrail, said in a press release last night that the rail operator was looking into the matter and would ensure the safety of passengers.
Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip asked the company to stop cable car services and asked it to do the utmost to ensure safety.
Chairman of Tourism Board James Tien said he was disappointed with the frequency of technical problems the skyrail had encountered since its opening. He called for an explanation by the rail operator and vowed to ask the Legislative Council to follow up with the matter.
K K Lo, engineer of the Polytechnic University's Mechanical Engineering Department, said he did not think the accident was related to the bad weather. He suggested it was caused by a fault in the design of the system.
The 5.7 km-skyrail was opened in September last year. The longest of its kind in the world, it features a 25-minute scenic ride between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping.
However, the rail system experienced technical problems even before it was commissioned, delaying the opening several times. Moreover, the system had to suspend its service whenever wind speed exceeded 90 km.
(HK Edition 06/12/2007 page6)