Plans for additional security underway when Sea to Sky Gondola reopens in the spring

Technical Safety BC report confirms gondola cable deliberately cut, no issue with the integrity of the operating equipment

A Technical Safety BC report released on Oct. 30 confirms that the Sea to Sky Gondola's cable was vandalized once again.

"In the early morning of Sept. 14, 2020, while the gondola was not in operation, the haul rope was cut while under tension. The cut was made on the downhill side of the loop from the top of one of the support towers," the report reads. "Once a sufficient number of the wire strands making the rope were cut, the rope separated under the tension of the gondola and attached cabins."

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The report went on to say that the cut was the sole cause of the failure.

"No design or manufacturing flaws were identified as contributing to the failure of the haul rope," it says before noting that, because of the deliberate nature of the incident and the subsequent police investigation, "Technical Safety BC did not pursue further evaluation of the installation, maintenance or operation of the gondola or persons responsible for cutting the haul rope."

In an interview with The Chief, Technical Safety BC director of risk and safety knowledge Jeff Coleman confirmed the similarities of last month's cut, with the first incident that took place in August 2019.

"There were lots of similarities in that it was deliberately cut, but I think as well, a big interest of ours, and of the public's, was to confirm that the design, installation and operation of this system wasn't contributing in any way," he said.

Technical Safety BC worked in co-operation with the RCMP and will continue to support its efforts, Coleman said.

"We've concluded our portion of the investigation and at this point, we really want to support them," he said.

Coleman added that anyone with information should contact the police'a gondola Information phone line: 604-892-6122 or email: GONDOLA.INFO@rcmp-grc.gc.ca. Those wishing to remain anonymous can contact Crimestoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submit a tip online at www.solvecrime.ca.

The gondola report did not contain any recommendations, which is fairly common practice.

"We do make recommendations in some incident investigations, depending on the findings and the circumstances, if there are opportunities to improve the safety and integrity of systems," Coleman said. "The event that occurred at Sea to Sky Gondola did not involve the integrity of the operating equipment."

Still, Technical Safety BC is working with the ski industry to ensure machinery is safe heading into the upcoming winter season.

"All the operators have a forum to discuss and exchange information: what steps they might be able to take or if there's any collective effort that might be helpful," he said, while reiterating that the Sea to Sky incident is "an extremely rare event."

On Sept. 25, the gondola announced alongside RCMP that the owners are putting up a $250,000 reward for information leading to a suspect's arrest and conviction.

Sea to Sky Gondola general manager Kirby Brown said that the report did not contain any unexpected information.

"As you can imagine, there's zero surprise. We've been working with Tech Safety BC on the report and, of course, knew instantaneously given the security measures we have in place what had happened and the fact that an individual had caused it," he said.

The Technical Safety BC report, as well as a more detailed report prepared by engineering and inspection firm Acuren, are both available at technicalsafetybc.ca/alerts/severed-haul-rope-leads-to-gondola-crash. The public versions of both reports have several heavily redacted sections.

Brown said the level of detail in the report is helpful for gondola operators, but is not always safe for public consumption.

"Their job is to make sure that the industry learns as much as possible from every single incident so that we can all improve and be safer," he said. "This is, in our world, a pretty unique situation in that we're trying the find the right balance of making sure there's information about improvement without adding additional tools to potential perpetrators.

"They've done a good job of finding the balance."

The Chief talked to Brown during a break in a planning session for when the gondola reopens.

"We're talking about how to make Sea to Sky Gondola even more beautiful when we open," he said. "We're going to open some time in the spring or early summer and at that moment in time, we're going to earn back every single gracious guest who comes to see us.

"We're excited about that challenge."

Brown said the gondola is in the process of determining additional security measures to put in place to ensure there is not a third incident.

"It's a hard thing to do to secure two kilometres of mountainous terrain, two-thirds of which are in a provincial park," he said. "Using the most enhanced modern technology, we will absolutely be making enhancements to protect ourselves against this individual.

"We can't militarize the entire lift corridor. It is in a provincial park. The elements we will add are very unobtrusive physically but still allow for great detection. We're working with experts around the world on that program right now."

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