DO NOT POST: Ski lift malfunction at Devil's Head Resort - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

COPY-DO NOT POST! Ski lift malfunction at Devil's Head Resort

MERRIMAC (WKOW) -- Sheriff's Deputies are investigating what caused a chairlift to malfunction at Devil's Head Ski Resort Thursday night, causing the chairs to go in reverse at increasing speeds.

At the time of the accident, three people were taken to the hospital with what were being called serious injuries; more than a dozen were transported in all.

27 News spoke with supervisors at Sauk Prairie Memorial Hospital in Prairie du Sac and St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo Friday morning. They tell us everyone who was taken to the hospital was treated and sent home.

One person is being treated in Baraboo on an outpatient basis.


MERRIMAC (WKOW) -- Several people are in the hospital Thursday, some with serious injuries, after a chairlift broke at Devil's Head ski resort.

Devil's Head is just outside Merrimac.

The chairlift was full of people when it broke, causing the chairs to hurtle backwards some smashing into the back wall.

Authorities say at least three people were taken to the hospital with serious injuries, and at least seven others with less-serious injuries.

27 News was at the hill as emergency responders came in from across the region.

Emergency lights fill the bottom of Devil's Head Ski Resort, after one of the chairlifts apparently broke and began to reverse direction and gain speed as they slid.

Carl Schleich says, "We were about halfway up the hill and all of a sudden we stopped and started going backwards."

These skiers saw dozens of people actually jumping off the lift to avoid smashing into a wall at the end.

David Brady says, "You could hear the chairs at the bottom crashing into things, metal clashing on metal, so at that point it was time to get off."

Schleich adds, "We were about three poles from the bottom realized it wasn't going to stop so we decided to jump off instead of crashing to the bottom."

They jumped -- some more than 20 feet to the ground. At that point it was about helping others.

Brady says, "One girl was screaming that her back was broken." Schleich says, "We started digging through this thing, pulling out a neck brace, putting it on her."

Others were so high up the hill the chairlift had stopped before they hit the bottom.

Matt Dederich says, "We just decided to stay on, and luckily enough it slowed down to a stop."

Sheriff's deputies still aren't sure what started the malfunction that caused the entire chairlift to move in reverse.

Chief Deputy with the Sauk County Sheriff's Department Chip Meister says, "It's an unfortunate incident not only for the injured but for the business as well."

The work now begins to discover what could have broken, enough to leave a dozen people hurt, and dozens more reeling from the impact.

EMS responders were called in from all over after the incident, some from Portage, Merrimac, Sauk Prairie, even Lake Delton.

Some of the injured were taken to Sauk Prairie Memorial, St. Clare Hospital in Baraboo and Divine Savior in Portage.


MERRIMAC (WKOW) -- At least 12 people were injured after a ski lift malfunctioned at Devil's Head Resort in Merrimac.

It happened shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday night.

"The ski lift was in operation, was full of skiers," said Sauk Co. Chief Deputy Chip Meister. "The ski lift stopped and then started coming back rapidly. There were unable to stop it at that time."

"There was a loud bang and it smelled like burned rubber," said Brent Cashore of Evansville. "That's when it started coming backwards and the chairs were just flying and the thing is smokey, sparking."

Miles Marshall, 17, of Reedsburg, said he and his friend were among the first to jump off the lift. He said he saw a lift carrying his other friend hit the bottom, then told his friend they had to jump.

"I watched him go around, saw the sparks fly and said 'oh, my God, what are we going to do,' I grabbed my friend and said we can't go around that, we would die if we go around this. So then [I counted] 1, 2, 3 and jumped and got down as fast as we could," Marshall said.

Marshall said he and his friend are fine, but his friend who hit the bottom was taken to an area hospital

Deputy Meister says at least 3 people were seriously injured.  And at least 9 minor injuries in the incident.

"The chairs were just crashing at the bottom and shattering," said Cashore. "People were jumping off all over the mountain. It lasted about a minute and a half to two minutes. Nothing anyone could do but watch them jump off and try to help them."

"The injured people are currently being taken to area hospitals including Baraboo, Sauk Prairie Hospital, and possibly to Portage Hospital," Meister said.

Devil's Head Resort general manager Joe Vittengl said there were three ski lifts in operation when the accident happened. Maintenance crews inspected the other two lifts, which were deemed safe. Those two lifts are still operating, according to Vittengl.

An internal investigation is ongoing, but the conditions are making it difficult, according to Vittengl. "It's pitch dark out there," he said.


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