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A gondola car rests on its side on the mountain after a cable snapped overnight at the Sea to Sky Gondola causing gondola cars to crash to the ground below in Squamish, B.C., on Saturday August 10, 2019. Squamish RCMP Constable Ashley MacKay said that no one was injured since the cabin cars don’t start running until 9:30 a.m.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

RCMP have launched an investigation into how someone sabotaged the Sea to Sky Gondola near Squamish, B.C., by deliberately cutting the multistrand steel cable midway along the line, weakening the entire system so that most of the 31 aerial cabin cars crashed to the ground.

The single cable that holds up the cabin cars collapsed some time after 4 a.m. on Saturday, roughly five hours before the popular tourist attraction was scheduled to open for the day.

“This is a criminal investigation,” Squamish RCMP Constable Ashley MacKay said in an interview on Sunday. “The cable is made up of steel and multiple strands. We don’t believe that it would just snap.”

No one was injured since the cabin cars don’t start running until 9:30 a.m., she said. Each cabin car, featuring padded seats and floor-to-ceiling windows, holds up to eight people.

The gondola, located about 60 kilometres north of Vancouver, has been closed indefinitely. Opened in 2014, the attraction’s managers tout speculator views of Howe Sound from the top of the ride. A same-day ticket costs about $50 for each adult customer catching the lift that goes up the side of Mount Habrich.

“The cable was compromised and further investigation revealed that it was cut,” Constable MacKay said. “With it being compromised, it affected the integrity of the entire gondola line, which caused the gondola cabins to fall.”

Ken Bailey, a spokesman for the Sea to Sky Gondola, said the vandal who cut the cable would need to be experienced in order to sever the line. “The cable was absolutely, without question, tampered with,” Mr. Bailey said in an interview late Sunday, noting that the cable is about 5.5 centimetres in diameter with six steel strands interwoven.

“This is a big cable that is specially made and engineered for gondolas around the world,” he said. “It’s like a metal rope that’s twisted together into a cable. It’s one cable that carries the cabin cars up, comes around at the top station and that same cable carries them down to the bottom."

Mr. Bailey said someone knew to climb a tall steel tower midway along the line to get to the cable at the top of that tower. There are about 20 towers along the gondola system.

“Conservatively, it’s going to be over $1-million in damage,” he estimated. “It’s too early to determine whether some of the 31 cars are damaged beyond repair or can be salvaged. Most of them fell to the ground."

Technical Safety BC is assisting RCMP with the investigation into the gondola site, located between Shannon Falls Provincial Park and Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, where the Stawamus Chief Mountain is located.

“This type of incident resonates with everyone, as we all recognize the impact of what could have happened,” Constable MacKay said. “At this point we have no reason to believe that other businesses or attractions will be affected. However, we do encourage every business to take appropriate safety precautions and remain vigilant.”

In a statement, the gondola’s operators said they learned about the collapse of the cable, technically known as the haul rope, at about 4:30 a.m., when “we received an alert that the haul rope for Sea to Sky Gondola had fallen and the lift was inoperable. No guests or staff were on the gondola and no injuries were sustained in the incident.”

Gondola employees spotted the collapsed cable and several cabin cars on the ground around 7 a.m. and the police arrived on the scene by 8:45 a.m., according to the RCMP.

Austria-based Doppelmayr Garaventa Group manufactured the gondola operation. “The world’s prominent lift manufacturer have given us their best. A state-of-the-art gondola system for transporting guests comfortably, safely and quietly to the inaccessible,” according to a description on Sea to Sky Gondola’s website.

Switzerland-based CWA Constructions SA, a unit of Doppelmayr Garaventa, produced the cabin cars.

After passengers take the 10-minute ride up 885 metres above sea level, they can go on hikes or eat at one of the food outlets. The gondola is a major tourism driver in the region.

One wedding planner said the shutdown has sent her scrambling to find alternatives for holding receptions for soon-to-be married couples. “All my couples have chosen the Sea to Sky Gondola because of the incredible views and I would like to find something that can come close to that,” Caroline Hyatt said in a Facebook posting.

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