A father and son are sharing their harrowing story of survival after the collapse of a chairlift at Crystal Mountain on Saturday.
Paul Gervais, felt compelled to come forward to Castanet after social media was flooded with those supporting the mountain and downplaying the incident as minor. He says, for his son and him, it was terrifying.
“It was all nice and peaceful you know, some really nice father son time, I just looked over at Kota and I said, ‘Love you buddy’ and he said love you too dad,” shared Gervais.
“Then without warning, no speeding up or slowing down, no noise, no vibration or anything just like getting struck by lightning, the chair shot straight up into the air and Dakota shot straight out of it.”
According to the pair the chair then came crashing down and dad was able to quickly grab his son and hold on before the chair went up and crashed down again.
“I was hanging on to him and we were both sort of hanging there and we starting sinking and I realized we didn’t have a seat anymore,” says Gervais. “I looked down below and realized that all the pieces of our seat were on the snow below us.”
Gervais then used all his strength to hold himself up with one arm and hold his son with the other. He screamed for help and urged them to not restart the lift.
“Koda was yelling ‘Dad, I'm going to fall I'm going to fall!’ and I yelled back ‘there is no way I'm going to let you fall, I'm not going to let you fall!’”
He told Castanet he knew nothing would cause him to let go of his son, but he was scared the whole chair itself would come loose causing them both to hurtle to the ground.
“I just remember looking up at the cable and wondering how a chair lift is built and why the one behind us is on the ground and if ours was going to fall and in my head I'm wondering ‘is this how I am going to die? In a chairlift?,’” shuddered Gervais.
Dakota Gervais, who's eight, showed real bravery through the whole incident, never crying once and remaining calm.
“I was just mostly freaked out that my dad’s hand was going to slip out and I was going to fall to the ground, but luckily his hand didn’t slip and I didn’t fall,” explained the youngster.
“You know parents come up with surprising strength and will, and when it is our kids, we do whatever we can to keep them safe,” added Paul Gervais.
Shortly after Castanet broke the story many wrote on our site, and in social media that the event was being sensationalized, but to this father and son there was nothing small about it.
“I saw this guy on the news, and read others on Castanet last night saying 'oh you know, it was really fun getting down, it was no big deal', well it wasn’t like that for me,” says a frustrated Gervais.
“We are beat up right now and if I would have lost grip of my son and been stranded in mid air looking down at him in the snow, I can’t even think about it,” adds Gervais shaking his head.
“I had one arm keeping me up and the other hanging on to my son and then they send the t-bar up and say ok just get that between his legs and wrap the rope around him like it is easy and I'm thinking, 'how the hell I am supposed to do that?'.”
Dad explains that his incredibly brave son managed to wiggle between his legs and then the 8-year-old basically stood up on skis onto the wet t-bar frame and dad managed to slip the rope around him and lowered him to the ground.
“There was no safety rope and if there was even one little slip he would have fallen right to the ground,” said a shaken Gervais. “Even a strong grown man is not going to be able to catch an 8-year-old in skis falling 25-feet.”
The two got away with bruising and dad has a wrenched neck, but both are grateful to be alive.
“It’s a parent's worse fear, anything ever happening to their kids, you’re there and you are just skiing and having fun and I would never have been able to get over that, obviously, nobody could,” said Gervais at the thought of his son falling.
Gervais told Castanet he felt the mountain was not prepared.
“You know the guy below us is yelling on his radio, ‘I only have Level 1 First Aid, I only have Level 1’ and although they had quick response and did the evacuation and everyone was trying to help, you could tell it was overwhelming, a lot of people were hurt and scrambling.”
The mountain stands behind their response, their actions and their maintenance claiming they are just as shocked as everyone else.
“That lift has been in operation since 1967 and I have been here for 20-years and we have never had anything even come close to that on this lift so I honestly don’t know what went wrong,” said Crystal Mountain general manager Mike Morin.
Morin says the mountain follows all the rules and does all required maintenance and inspection.
The general manager did not mention an $8000 fine the mountain received last year because of a safety violation on a chairlift.
“We are followed by the safety authority, they are very rigorous at making sure the lifts are safe, they come up once or twice a year to make sure that everything is right,” said Morin.
Castanet has confirmed the mountain's lifts were inspected in Dec. 2013.
“We do maintenance on the lift for a good four months a year, so basically for every day we are open there is a day of maintenance done on the lift. So, the lifts are very well maintained, we have very stringent codes that we have to follow so I am anxious as everybody else to find out what the root cause was,” added Morin.
He says his staff, volunteers and management team are just like everyone else and desperate for answers.
“I honestly don’t know what happened and the lift inspector is talking to all witnesses to try to get more facts and I hope that their detective's know-how will find a root cause. I really want to know. I don’t want anyone getting hurt on the lift,” said a remorseful Morin.
Morin also had a different take on the rescue of those who were still stuck on the lift. He didn't even mention the ordeal the Gervaises went through.
"There was roughly a dozen chairs that had people on them anywhere from one and two customers on it. And it took us about an hour to get them off. Nobody that got evacuated off the lift had any concerns. Their was one person who was afraid to get off the chair, but that is typical. You're slipping off of a chair and you're relying on people down there, that they are not going to drop you. That was not an issue for anyone hurting themselves that way."
As for the Gervais family, they are doing well, but want to ensure the chairlift is fixed entirely and that no one else has to fear a day on the hill.
“You know, I don’t want to be all beat up. You go there for a fun family day, you pay your couple hundred bucks for lessons and you go out and Kota had just got a new helmet and he’s getting jacked about skiing and then you know some -year-old chairlift lets you down.
You know I am thinking as a dad, I am the one that said let’s go skiing, and I am the one that said two weeks ago, don’t worry son these things never fall, and it is going to haunt me forever.”
And to those who spoke on the event, but weren’t hanging for life from a chair that had disintegrated the senior Gervais says,“You know, it was a big deal. I thought I was going to lose my life that day, or my son's or both, so I just don’t want this brushed off.”
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