Monday 18 November 2019

Girl's survival 'a miracle' after 30ft fall from ski lift

Breda Heffernan

AN Irish girl was seriously injured after she fell 30 feet from a ski-lift on to ice and snow at a resort in Austria.

Horrified holidaymakers looked on as a screaming Emily O'Rourke (10) dangled from the lift for almost a minute before she slipped from the grasp of fellow skiers and plummeted to the ground below.

The girl, from Moyvore, outside Mullingar, Co Westmeath, suffered three cracked vertebrae in the accident which took place in the resort of Westendorf on Sunday.

It is unclear how the safety bar on the chair-lift lifted, allowing Emily to slide forwards.

Police in Austria are trying to trace an unidentified German couple who were in the same chair-lift and who were initially hailed as heroes after desperately clinging on to Emily before she fell.

However, the tourists refused to discuss how the safety bar was lifted and then left, saying they wanted to enjoy the rest of their time on the slopes.

Emily yesterday remained in a hospital in nearby Sankt Johann with her parents, Caroline and Frank, at her bedside. It is not yet known when she will return home.

Doctors have told the family that they expect the girl to make a full recovery.

"My daughter has been so lucky. It is a wonder she is not paralysed," Caroline said. "Three vertebrae have been broken, but the doctors say she will get better. Emily will make a full recovery. We are so happy," she added.

One holidaymaker who saw the accident said Emily was on her way to a skiing lesson with other children and an instructor when she "just began to disappear."

"People tried frantically to hold on to her but the lift was swinging wildly, the safety bar was up and their (the German couple's) strength just gave out."

"It's a miracle she survived at all," said one rescue worker.

It is understood that Emily was sitting on the chair-lift alongside a friend, but both are in shock and cannot remember what caused the safety bar to rise.

Hansjoerg Kogler, boss of the lift company Bergbahnen Westendorf, said he and police wanted to speak to the German tourists to find out what went wrong.

"I really cannot understand their behaviour. We wanted to question the couple about the events, but they were not cooperative. They said they only had half-day passes and therefore wanted to go skiing.


"There are still many open questions about how the accident could have occurred . . . it is shocking that there is so little sense of responsibility. How can someone see a child fall from a ski-lift, then simply want to go off skiing to get their money's worth from their lift pass?"

Local police said that adults travelling with children had a duty of responsibility to make sure the safety bar was down and that they were secure.

Mr Kogler said he was delighted to hear that Emily was on the mend.

"That is the best news I have heard all day. The girl will suffer no lasting effects as a result of the accident," he added.

Irish Independent

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