British Columbia

'Hard to fathom': Sea to Sky Gondola manager at a loss over motive for cutting cable

The manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola says he's angry and confused about why anybody would risk people's lives by cutting a thick steel cable in an apparent act of vandalism that brought 30 of the popular attraction's cars crashing to the ground.

'It could have easily killed somebody,' says Kirby Brown, who urges people to stay away from scene

The five-year-old gondola starts close to sea level and terminates at around 900 metres above Howe Sound, offering panoramic views of the inlet and surrounding area. The ride takes about 10 minutes and carries up to 240 passengers at peak times. (Ben Nelms for CBC News)

The manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola says he's angry and confused about why anybody would risk people's lives by cutting a thick steel cable in an apparent act of vandalism that brought 30 of the popular attraction's cars crashing to the ground.

RCMP believe the specialized steel cable connecting the gondola cars was cut around 4 a.m. PT on Aug. 10.

"With the forces they unleashed, it could have easily killed somebody," Kirby Brown told CBC's The Early Edition, adding that a security staff member on site could have been caught up in the incident.

Brown is now warning campers, hikers and those curious to see the crime scene to stay clear of the area, especially below the towers.

He says the structure, erected to carry gondolas two kilometres up a steep mountainside off Highway 99 near Squamish, remains a danger and anybody below would be "taking their lives in their hands."

Crumpled gondola cars fell into trees and onto cliffs, where some are perched precariously, he added. 

Cleanup and investigation of the crime scene continues.

The view of Howe Sound as seen from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola on July 19, 2019. (Rhianna Schmunk/CBC)

Brown took over as manager when the Sea to Sky Gondola was about a year old, but can't imagine why anybody would be motivated to do this kind of damage to the attraction.

Initially some people in Squamish did protest the idea of building a gondola ride up the mountainside above Shannon Falls and the Stawamus Chief, and others did not want the tourist attraction to intersect a provincial park — but since then, Brown said, the community has shown support for the attraction.

"Looking out my office window this morning at this beautiful broken thing … it's still kind of hard to fathom," said Brown, who was one of the first staff on scene after the cable was severed, around five hours before the attraction was due to open for the day.

WATCH: Kirby Brown describes seeing the gondola damage for the first time

Sea to Sky Gondola manager Kirby Brown recounts the moment he found out there was a 'catastrophic failure' and makes a plea to the public to help find the person responsible for the vandalism. 2:15

"They did it at a time of day that minimized risk to humans, but it didn't eliminate it," he added.

He says that if, as suspected, somebody did cut the French-made steel cable — which is as thick as a beer can — they put their own life at risk, as well as others'.

There would be no way of knowing how severing the cable would affect the entire system, he said, with the potential for cars to crash into terminals where security staff work overnight.

Rebuild will cost millions

The five-year-old gondola starts close to sea level and terminates at around 900 metres above Howe Sound, offering panoramic views of the inlet and surrounding area. The ride takes about 10 minutes and carries up to 240 passengers at peak times.

The upper terminus features a restaurant and offers family activities, and regularly hosts special events such as weddings or parties.

'With the forces they unleashed, it could have easily killed somebody,' said Kirby Brown, general manager of the Sea to Sky Gondola, of the person suspected of cutting the cable at the popular attraction. (Kirby Brown)

Brown says repairs and rebuilding will probably take months and cost millions of dollars. He said security will be increased at the site, and the company will be working to rebuild people's trust in the ride's safety.

He said a failed cable is almost unheard of, and the cable is impossible to cut while the gondola is in operation. But he says they will be using this incident as an opportunity to educate people about the safety measures that are in place so that the system doesn't fail while people are on board.

Police and work safety inspectors are continuing to investigate the site. Police have not released any details about how the cable may have been cut. 

Brown says police have told him that some progress has been made in the investigation, but he was unable to share more details, as the case is active.

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend