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Gourette Fontaines-de-Cotch english summary

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publié le 26 février 2020

On 22 December 2012, at about 16.00, at the Gourette ski area in Eaux-Bonnes in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département, an adolescent who had just got on the ‘Fontaines-de-Cotch’ chairlift accompanied by two friends, found himself hanging in mid-air, grasping the restraining bar on his seat and held back by his neighbour. Just over forty seconds later, he fell from a height of 15 metres on to a rock, when he was between 90 and 100 metres away from the embarkation queue. Rushed to hospital in Pau, he died two days later.

The direct cause of this fall was the fact that the victim slipped under the seat’s restraining bar, which was nevertheless lowered normally. It has not been possible to determine precisely what made this possible. There is nothing to suggest it was caused by the conduct of the victim or of his two neighbours, who were calm, did not have a rucksack on their backs and had promptly lowered the seat’s restraining bar. However, it is possible that the victim was thrown off balance either by the impact of the seat as it arrived, or by one of his skis striking the ground just after the flat embarkation area. It is also possible that he was hampered as he tried to settle into his chair.
Nevertheless, there were three factors that contributed to this accident :

  • this chairlift’s operating conditions in terms of its speed and seat spacing, as well as the way its supervision was organised which, although it complied with the applicable technical regulations, did not allow a single member of staff to effectively supervise, over a sufficient distance, the passengers who had just got on ;
  • the absence of additional technical devices that could have compensated for the limits of this supervision, by strengthening the ability to detect passengers in difficulty or by physically limiting the risks of slipping under the restraining bar ;
  • the inadequacy of the operating instructions given to the operating staff on the conduct they should adopt when a passenger risks falling, which did not contribute to quick and coordinated reactions by the personnel then posted at the lower station of the installation involved.

Overall, the detailed analysis of this accident highlights that the standards and regulations concerning safe embarkation on chairlifts do not guarantee the overall coherence of the layout, equipment and operating conditions within a given installation, which would provide for optimum conditions to prevent passengers from falling off immediately after embarking.

In the light of the above, BEA-TT made four recommendations :

  • assess the safety of passenger embarkation on all existing ski-lifts ;
  • adjust and consolidate the technical requirements contributing to this safety in order to guarantee optimum application on each installation ;
  • train the personnel in charge of operating the ski-lifts serving the Gourette and Pierre-Saint-Martin ski areas to manage emergency situations that could lead to a passenger falling immediately after having got on the chairlift, on the basis of explicit operational instructions.