Anxious and nauseous, they huddled together in the tattered cable car, gripped with fear as they dangled precariously hundreds of feet in the air.
With a bit of a drink and some drifting in and out of consciousness, the six children and two adults endured a 14-hour ordeal that stranded them above the verdant forests of the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northern Pakistan, with their lives on the line.
But their pleas for help were heeded, and late Tuesday, authorities revealed how they painstakingly rescued the passengers — one by helicopter, others via ziplines — in a remarkable weather-complicated rescue.
“The extremely challenging rescue mission is made more difficult by the strong winds in the area and the risks involved in such operations, including the destabilization of the elevator by the helicopter blades,” the Pakistan Armed Forces said in a statement.
A cable car, which used to travel between the villages of Patanji and Jangri in Battagram district – about four hours away by the nearest road – is used to ferry children to school, reducing the nearly four-hour journey to a few minutes.
But what was supposed to be a quick gondola ride turns into a nerve-wracking life-or-death scenario after one of the car’s cables snaps, leaving the group trapped 900 feet (about 275 meters) above the canyon.
With the car suspended by what appeared to be just a single cable, military personnel embarked on a frantic task to rescue those on board, hauling a child by helicopter and hauling the others to safety via a zipline as night fell.
Footage released by the rescue services captured the dramatic moment when a child appeared to jump off a cable car, while clinging tightly to the end of a rope hanging from a helicopter, before being carried to safety.
In another video, workers can be seen hauling two adults down a zip line after night fell, making an aerial rescue difficult.
While they were waiting to be rescued, two of the students in the cable car slipped and lost consciousness, a passenger told Pakistani outlet Geo News. The passenger, identified only as Galfaraz, urged the state authorities to take action. He said the students did not even have access to drinking water.
Tanveer Rahman, deputy commissioner of Batagram district, said rescue personnel gave the passengers anti-nausea medicines after reports of children vomiting, and those trapped were given heart-related medicines.
The news of the successful rescue reverberated throughout Pakistan.
“I am relieved to learn that Alhamdulillah all the children were successfully and safely rescued. Great teamwork by the army, rescue departments, district administration as well as the locals,” interim Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar wrote on X formerly known as Twitter.
The cable car is a regular mode of transportation for the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as travel between villages can take hours due to the dense forests and challenging terrain.
Patagram district, where the cable car is located, is very poor and lacks infrastructure and development. Families rely on homemade gondolas, some made from scrap metal and discarded pickup trucks, to travel to school and even to the hospital.
However, these cable cars can lack proper maintenance and have had disasters in the past. Last December, 12 children were rescued from another cable car in eastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The incident prompted Pakistan’s interim prime minister to order all “dilapidated and non-compliant elevators” to be closed immediately, according to a statement from his office at the time.