First-world sensibilities suffered a jolt in Cape Town on Wednesday (February 22) when a cableway car carrying cricketers dropped suddenly for a short distance during its descent from Table Mountain, alarming its cargo of mostly foreign tourists as they dangled between the famous flat top of the 1,086-metre peak and the city below.
Among them were members of the England squad playing in the women’s T20 World Cup who, while they queued to go down the mountain, had seen an ascending car stop before finishing its journey as planned. Normal service resumed without further incident, but Danni Wyatt won’t forget the moment in a hurry – nor risk putting herself through the ordeal again.
“Going back down yesterday, there were a few technical issues that made me very nervous before we boarded the cable car, and then it decided to drop a little bit and swung,” Wyatt said on Thursday. “It was a very terrifying experience. I don’t think I’ll be going up that mountain again anytime soon.” She admitted to having screamed, saying “literally everyone” did: “A lot of people were shaking.”
It wasn’t Wyatt’s first trip up the landmark, but it may be the last: “I went up there about seven years ago when I first came here and I think that’ll be the last time. I’m not going on that cable car ever again. I’m staying away from it. I’ll take the stairs.”
Her teammate, Kate Cross, took that option, which amounts to a hike of between 3km and 5km lasting three to five hours. “Ticked off climbing Table Mountain,” Cross tweeted on Thursday. “One of the great days.”
Wyatt might not share that sentiment. She blamed South Africa’s electricity crisis, which since 2008 has resulted in scheduled rolling power blackouts since 2007 that have increased in frequency to up to 10-and-a-half hours a day: “It’s the loadshedding. Once the electricity goes, that’s it.”
The cableway, which will be 94 years old in October but is regularly upgraded and modernised, is subject to the blackouts. Even so, there is a plan B. “Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMACC) uses a hydraulic back-up motor during loadshedding that replaces the electric motor that operates our cars and their movement,” Wahida Parker, the managing director of the TMACC, was quoted as saying in a statement.
The England players wanted to descend in the afternoon, which coincided with Table Mountain’s scheduled outage from 4pm to 8.30pm. This time, plan B could have used a plan C: “This [back-up] motor experienced a technical problem on Wednesday, which caused our cars to get stuck on the line. We adopted two approaches simultaneously to resolve the problem. Our technicians worked to find the fault so that we could get moving as soon as possible, while at the same time we contacted the City of Cape Town to ask that the power to our area be restored so that we could bring our passengers down safely and quickly.
“We pride ourselves on providing visitors with a positive and enjoyable experience, and what happened on Wednesday is not what we aim for. We sincerely regret the experience that passengers had who were stuck in our cars. We are happy to confirm that all the passengers safely reached the upper and lower stations.”
And, Parker didn’t have to say, that they left the scene with a story to tell for years to come. Including in England’s dressing room.