What happened when tourists were trapped for hours in Malaysia’s Langkawi cable car

Some of the tourists said they were left emotionally scarred by the harrowing incident. Source: Shutterstock

BOARDING a cable car can either be a titillating or distressing experience, depending on your tolerance for heights. For dozens of tourists in a Malaysian island last weekend, the experience turned into an acrophobic nightmare when their gondolas remained suspended for hours during a major breakdown.

On Sunday evening, over 500 visitors to the popular Langkawi island were left stranded in the SkyCab cable car system hundreds of feet above ground for nearly five hours in a major malfunction that left rescuers and technicians scrambling to bring them back down to safety.

The ordeal began at about 5.49pm when the string of gondolas – carrying about 50 people during peak hours when revellers leave Mount Matchingchang before dawn – ground to a sudden halt, while the remaining 500-odd visitors and dozens of staff were stranded at the base station at the summit.

After being trapped in gondolas hundreds of feet above ground for hours without food, water or a place to relieve themselves, some of the victims met said they were left emotionally scarred by the harrowing experience.

“This is my first time riding a cable car but when this happened, I felt traumatised and won’t do it again,” a tourist, who declined to be named, told Astro Awani.

A Facebook user, who goes by the name Dek Ammar, says he was among the dozens trapped in the hanging cars.

Commencing the steep climb on the Langkawi Cable Car. Pic: Kieron Turner.

Commencing the steep climb on the Langkawi Cable Car. Source: Kieron Turner

“I have been stuck for three hours in the Langkawi cable car..while hungry and cold and due to something not caused by the weather,” he said on the social networking website at about 8pm on Sunday.

“If (we were) stuck for 10, 20 minutes it would have been fine but now it is dark and we have been suspended up here with a lot of people. I hope they (rescuers) provide help like food and water to the children and elderly.”

By about 10.30pm, nearly five hours after the system broke down, Facebook user Meenakshi Lachman said she was finally back on the ground.

“This reminded me how important it is to be considerate and also how easy it is for people to forget how to be considerate in emergency situations,” she said.

“I hope that after this a proper emergency plan is implemented for situations like this and staff are better trained to handle situations like this because it was an absolute nightmare.”

She added, “Just glad that no one got hurt and we’re all safe.”

Kaori Matsumoto, who was stranded at one of the base stations, said the breakdown took longer than expected as cable car staff said it should have been fixed in two hours.

“The weather is very cold up there when the sun goes down. The kids on board the cars were crying because their parents could not give them milk. I was disappointed with the Skycab company because no one gave us anything to keep us warm,” she told Travel Wire Asia.

The total length of the cable car ride is 2.2km (1.4 miles) and it reaches an elevation of 708m above sea level.

According to the New Straits Times, 89 of over 500 tourists arrived at the base station at Oriental Village at about 11pm.

Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) chief executive officer Azizan Noordin, was quoted as saying the technical teams used manual efforts to mobilise the system to bring the cable cars down to the base station.

He said one of the tourists had fainted but regained consciousness before being rushed the Langkawi Hospital for treatment.

“The rest were okay but tired, while some appeared to be a bit traumatic after being stranded inside a stalled cable car and hanging few hundred metres high for a couple of hours, but we are doing our best to comfort them and provide the necessary assistance,” he said.