Nearly 20 feet above the solid snow, a young boy finds himself in very real – and very frightening – danger. The eight-year-old dangles in mid-air next to a chairlift, with only his father’s strength and determination keeping him from making the potentially fatal drop. And when a group of teenagers spot the frantic dad and his precariously balanced son, they realize that they have to act fast – otherwise it may just be too late.
This horrifying scene played out in February 2019 at Grouse Mountain – a popular spot for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months in North Vancouver. And as visitors took to the slopes at the Canadian attraction, many may have been unaware of the drama taking place not far above their heads.
But while Carolina Akoglu did notice the boy’s plight, she was unable to intervene. You see, she was on the chairlift at the same time as the eight-year-old and his dad and therefore had little chance of getting to the ground in a safe and efficient manner. All she could do, then, was watch and capture the ordeal on camera.
Of the harrowing incident, Akoglu told Newsweek in March 2019, “We got in the chairlift, and [a] few seconds after we heard a horrible scream. There was a man with a kid struggling to keep the kid in the chair, [and he was] yelling at the operator to stop the chair.”
The dad’s cries were ultimately to no avail, though. Akoglu added, “The operator didn’t hear [the shouts] because the [nearby] music was too loud.” Instead, she explained, the chairlift had just “kept on going up and up and up.” And all the while, the onlooker continued to film, with her video capturing the desperate moments for posterity.
Thankfully, a group of teenagers on the ground had also noticed the boy’s perilous position, and they couldn’t just stand by and watch him fall. In order to keep the child from coming to harm, then, the teens sprang into action – and came up with an unexpectedly ingenious method of saving the day.
Yet this wasn’t the first time that such a daring rescue had been carried out in British Columbia. Just one month previously, in fact, another popular spot in the region had borne witness to a similarly shocking scene. At the Sasquatch Mountain Resort, another boy had slipped from a chairlift, and he too had been left hovering far above the ground as a nearby adult tried to keep him in their clutches.
Steve Perry, who had been at the resort at the time of the ordeal, later revealed what he’d seen in a March 2019 interview with Global News. The bystander explained, “Somebody lost their ski poles right at the loading ramp, and I actually tried to grab them… [Then] I looked up, and there was a kid dangling from the chairlift in front of me.”
After that, Perry claimed that he had “yelled at the attendant to stop the lift.” Fortunately, he was heard, and so Sasquatch Mountain employees were able to intervene and rescue the boy before the situation took a turn for the worse. “It was actually pretty impressive. I’d say within three to four minutes, there was probably four to five ski patrol there [at the scene],” Perry added.
In December 2017 a suspected power surge had even stopped the resort’s chairlift altogether, leaving the 120 people who were on board the contraption completely stranded. And the passengers spent as long as three hours suspended in the air – and in freezing temperatures – before they were finally brought safely back to ground level.
Plus, of course, neither skiing nor snowboarding are without their risks. According to records by the British Columbia Coroners Service, from 2007 to 2016 more than 23 people died on average each year in the province after participating in winter sports. Avalanches accounted for close to half of these fatalities, while an astonishing 88 percent of those injured had been on mountains at the time.
And, in fact, a ski lift is arguably one of the most secure places to be at a winter resort. That’s according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), which claimed in a 2017 press release, “There is no other transportation system that is as safely operated [and] with so few injuries and fatalities as the uphill transportation provided by chairlifts at ski resorts in the United States.”
The NSAA also revealed that, from 1973 to 2017, there were just 13 fatalities as a result of chairlift failure in the U.S. Only one of those deaths, moreover, occurred after 1993. And to put that figure into perspective, it’s worth learning that 16 Americans passed away after being hit by lightning in 2017 alone.
So, while chairlifts are typically very safe, that knowledge didn’t certainly help the young boy clinging on to his father at Grouse Mountain. Luckily for the eight-year-old, then, teenager James MacDonald had caught sight of what was going on while on the slopes with his buddies – and he noticed that something wasn’t quite right.
In March 2019 MacDonald told CBC, “I saw [the boy] first, and everyone was sort of just standing around [and] looking up at this poor kid. I said to the lady next to me, ‘He’s not going to be able to hang on for much longer,’ because he was struggling.”
So, after realizing that the situation was critical, MacDonald and his friends – Joshua Ravensbergen, Gabriel Neilson, Ethan Harvey and Sam North – took action by retrieving whatever spare materials they could find at the facility. That way, they could craft a makeshift contraption that may just end up saving the day – and the young boy’s life into the bargain.
And since no Grouse Mountain employees seemed to be rushing to the scene, the boys could make a real difference in resolving the potentially catastrophic situation playing out above them. But, as it turns out, MacDonald and his buddies weren’t the ones to notice the eight-year-old’s predicament.
The five young men were not alone in their heroic efforts, either, as two adults would also rush to the aid of the helpless boy. And acting on impulse, Peter Pian and Danielle McKinney joined MacDonald, Ravensbergen, Neilson, Harvey and North to begin fashioning what would hopefully become a substitute life net.
Speaking after the event, Pian told Global News, “We worked together, with Danielle and the five boys… [It was] teamwork.” McKinney, meanwhile, was full of praise for her fellow good Samaritan. “I just wanted to acknowledge Peter, because the big story is about the boys, but this man is actually who grabbed the fence and brought it over to me and held it. I just want to give him the credit he deserves,” she added.
By this point, though, the group of wannabe rescuers were running out of time. For one thing, the powerless little boy was becoming visibly flustered. And when speaking to CNN in March 2019, MacDonald recalled how the eight-year-old was acting during those moments, explaining, “He was starting to flail and get extremely panicked.”
So, using what few materials they had gathered, the unlikely team were ready to carry out the most treacherous part of their mission. Among the items that the bystanders had collected were a piece of bright orange plastic sheeting – which is more commonly used for cordoning off dangerous areas – and some padded cushioning, which served as a buffer at the resort.
With a little ingenuity, then, the boys and the adults put together a form of life net similar to those once sported by firefighters. Before being phased out in the 1980s, these devices had been used in assisting anyone who was trapped high up in a building and had no other way of getting out.
But as the life net’s subsequent obsolescence suggests, it was far from reliable. Even as far back as 1958, the invention was seen as a last resort – and only to be put into practice if there was a far worse fate looming around the corner. That year, Eugene, Oregon, newspaper The Register-Guard summed up advice given by firemen who had previously used the safety device, warning, “Don’t jump unless you’re burning to death!”
Naturally, though, the bystanders at Grouse Mountain had no time to consider whether their hastily put-together safety net would succeed or fail in breaking the eight-year-old’s fall. And given the sheer peril of the situation, the group had little choice but to take their next steps: guiding the boy towards letting go of his father’s hands.
And in taking the decision to plummet to the ground – even with the make-do life net in place – the child could have risked real injury. When talking to USA Today in 2017, emergency medicine specialist Dr. Robert Glatter explained, “From a height of 3 meters [roughly 10 feet], you could fracture your spine.”
In a bid to steer off potential catastrophe, then, 13-year-old Neilson got further involved. To begin with, he attempted to calm the still-panicking boy. Then the teenager encouraged the eight-year-old to remove his skis before making the leap. “He could have cut himself [with the skis on]; he could have messed up his legs. Who knows what could have happened?” Neilson added in an interview with CBC.
So, while suspended at a dizzying height, the young boy was now faced with the daunting task of removing both of his skis with nothing but his feet available to do so. And his dad’s grip was tested further, too, as the child began to writhe around in mid-air.
Luckily for those at the scene, though, the boy’s erratic movements were merely a result of his attempts to rid himself of the chunky equipment. And mere seconds after he managed to thrash off the first ski, the second followed – with both items plummeting towards the rescuers directly below.
Yes, after nearly a minute of painstaking struggle, the eight-year-old had managed to free himself of the cumbersome – and potentially life-endangering – skis. But even though that part of the plan had finally come to an end, the boy was still in real peril. And all the while, the team holding the life net stood firm, waiting for the child to drop.
Then, after the eight-year-old had shed his footwear, he lost hold of his father’s grip. Now, he was clinging on by only one arm, hanging above the tightly packed snow – perhaps just moments away from injury. And without knowing whether or not the dad had meant to let go of his son’s hand, all the teens and their adult helpers could do was keep in position and watch on for any further moves.
So, with the impromptu rescuers lying in wait and the plastic sheet positioned as accurately as possible, there was little else that could be done to assist the helpless young boy. By this point, all that was needed was for the eight-year-old to put his faith in the people below and launch himself towards their makeshift net.
Then the time finally came for the boy to let go of his father’s hand and plunge through the air towards the snow below. And as heard in the footage captured at the time of the incident, the child’s father makes it clear that his son is on his way by shouting down to the kids with the net, “Are you guys ready?”
In a truly heart-stopping moment, the eight-year-old then dropped from his position. And within just a couple of seconds, it became clear that the bystanders’ hard work and quick thinking paid off, as the boy fell directly onto their improvised safety gear – likely much to the relief of all concerned.
So, how did the child react after his ordeal? Well, while talking to CBC, 12-year-old Ravensbergen revealed, “[The boy] was really stunned. He was just looking at his feet. And we were asking him whether he was okay, and other people were asking him that, too, [but] he didn’t answer.”
It wasn’t clear at that point, either, as to whether the eight-year-old had emerged completely unharmed. Following the daring rescue, then, he was transported to the nearby Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver to be looked over. This was done as a preventative measure, as initially the boy didn’t seem to have received any injuries as a result of the fall.
However, even after the child had been retrieved, one question remained: how had he come to be in such a dangerous position in the first place? Well, Cam Surine, who works for Vancouver-based organization Technical Safety BC, had an answer to that. He told Global News, “In this particular circumstance, it was a loading issue.”
Surine also had some words of advice for anyone hoping to head to the slopes in the future. He added, “I encourage people, when they enter the loading area, to be aware of their surroundings. And if they feel like they need some special attention or help getting on the chair, they [should] notify the lift operator.”
Furthermore, following the similar incident at Sasquatch Mountain Resort, the attraction’s director of operations Randy Murphy spoke to Global News about the safety protocol used in these rare incidents. According to Murphy, employees at the resort have been fully brought up to speed on what to do in such an event, and they would either employ a net or a ladder in order to help anyone who is at risk of falling.
After the Grouse Mountain rescue, however, the spotlight was turned on the young men and their adult assistants who had saved the day. And the group of seven’s story not only went international, but it also earned them rewards into the bargain. Yes, “Grouse Hero” passes were bestowed free of charge upon the helpers, along with complimentary season tickets for the following year – all courtesy of the president of Grouse Mountain.
But can the team at the resort guarantee that such a terrifying incident won’t happen again? Well, Julia Grant, a spokesperson for Grouse Mountain, suggested that suitable measures would be put in place. In a statement to the media, Grant said, “Safety is our top priority, and we will be taking appropriate action based on the results of the investigation.” Here’s hoping, then, that the patrons of Grouse Mountain can continue to ski and snowboard freely – and without ever having to be responsible for saving someone’s life.