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Contact: Rod Horrocks, 575-236-1440
On March 26, one of the secondary elevators at Carlsbad Caverns National Park became stranded at 740 feet below the surface with three visitors inside due to a mechanical issue.
National Park Service rangers communicated with the visitors via the elevator phone system to ensure their well being and to keep them updated. The park activated the inter-agency search and rescue team consisting of the Carlsbad Fire Department and National Park Service (NPS) rangers. The rescue team set up rigging in the hoist way and with three EMT/paramedics inside the operational elevator and an NPS ranger up on top, lowered themselves to the stranded car. After reaching the visitors, the team harnessed up each visitor with a lifeline and transferred them through the roof escape hatches to the operational elevator. After 3.5 hours, the visitors were safely back at the park's visitor center in good spirits.
"This is the first time we've had to conduct an elevator rescue operation and it went smoothly because the inter-agency search and rescue team had just recently trained for this exact scenario," said NPS Incident Commander Tim Havens.
An inspection indicated that the elevator became stranded due to a worn travel cable. The travel cable sends the correct signal to the controls that allow the elevator car to operate. Plans to repair the cable and reinstate elevator service are currently being developed.
Until the cable is repaired, there is no elevator service into and out of the cavern. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the cavern by hiking the Natural Entrance Trail. This 1.25 mile trail involves a steep 75-story hike into and out of the cavern. For safety, the trail isn't accessible to wheelchairs, strollers, or walkers.
The secondary elevators that are currently not operational are part of two separate elevator systems (in two separate elevator shafts) at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The primary elevator system was originally installed in 1955 and went out of service in November 2015 when a six-inch motor shaft unexpectedly sheared off. Work to repair and modernize the primary elevators began in December 2017, and is on schedule to be completed by the end of May 2018. The secondary elevators have been providing all park elevator service while the primary elevators are being rebuilt.