Panic-stricken Table Mountain Cableway passengers jumped from a moving cable car, fearing for their lives, in a night of high drama as 900 were left stranded for hours by a power failure.
The drama unfolded high above the city after the blackout caused the cable cars to stall in mid-air, then jam into guiding bars at the top cableway station.
Rescuers worked until about midnight to evacuate passengers stranded in the two cable cars.
Both cabins jammed about 2m from their loading docks one at the top of the mountain and the other at the bottom near the off-loading ramp leaving them suspended in midair as rescue operations got under way.
Among the 900 people on the mountain was a 65-strong group of tourists from a multinational medical care company, Fresenius.
Fresenius chief executive Brian Prinsloo said on Tuesday: "We've been in town since last Thursday for a Middle East-Africa convention.
"The guys were desperate to get up the mountain because of the recent inclement weather. The weather had subsided a bit and everyone was looking forward to going up."
After they reached the top of the mountain, the wind began to pick up.
"Our tour guide was anxious for us to get down we also had a dinner appointment," Prinsloo said.
"And then all hell broke loose.
"I was in the middle of the queue, and I was suddenly called to pacify our group.
"I went to the front and was quite horrified at what I saw.
"About 90 percent of the (37-odd) people in the car were from our group.
"And some members of our group had jumped from the car to the platform. It could have been catastrophic they could have fallen to their deaths."
Prinsloo said he was dismayed that the car was not fully enclosed.
The members of the group who leapt out had tried to persuade others to jump.
"But fortunately, one or two members of our group came to their senses," Prinsloo said.
No one was hurt throughout the rescue drama.
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway spokesperson, Collette van Aswegen, said the cable cars had suffered a technical fault as a "direct result" of a two-hour power cut at the site, between 8pm and 10pm.
Once power had been restored, however, matters actually became worse for the cableway customers when the cabins, packed with hikers mostly tourists were trapped inside.
Van Aswegen said the guide mechanisms, used to direct the cable cars into the docking stations, had moved out of position, bringing both cars to a halt.
While Wilderness Search and Rescue evacuated passengers from the upper cabin, Table Mountain staff assisted in rescue operations at the lower cabin.
Cableway company chief executive Sabine Lehmann explained on Tuesday that they had two back-up power supply systems and that a lack of electricity had not been the cause of the passengers being stranded.
The problem had been that when the main power supply from Eskom went down, the mechanism which guides the cable cars into the docking bays had become stuck.
"Normally it rights itself when the power comes back on but this time it didn't for some reason," she said.
Even though the guiding mechanism had been only slightly out of alignment "literally only about 20mm" it had been enough to halt the system, Lehmann said.
A technician had been sent up to sort out the problem, but had taken about an hour to get to the top station.
"Once he arrived, it was sorted out in about 20 minutes," she said.
Their first priority had been to get the 37 stranded passengers out of the cable car.
When the system started operating again, they had immediately begun taking down the 500-odd people who were still on the mountain.
"The last group was brought down at about 1.30am," Lehmann said.
Wilderness Search and Rescue spokesperson Craig Clayden said passengers in the cable car at the top of the mountain had been evacuated through an escape hatch in the roof of the cabin.
Then they had to crawl on a ladder, balanced between the dock platform and the car, to make their way on to the dock.
"The platform was level with the escape hatch, which allow us to balance a ladder from one to the other, because it was only a 2m distance.
"The passengers moved across the ladder with the assistance of rescuers," Clayden said.
Hiker Seagram Pearce, of Edgemead, said people were in good spirits, despite the drama.
"Most of the people are patient and it doesn't look as if anyone's upset 90 percent of them are tourists, so it's an exciting experience for them, but as a local, it is quite annoying."
People had been waiting for the cable car to leave from about 7pm or 8pm, but by midnight, the stranded hikers had still not been transported to solid ground.
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