VIENNA, Austria – A 1,500-pound chunk of concrete being carried by helicopter for a ski resort construction project hit a gondola full of alpine tourists Monday, knocking it out of the sky and killing nine people, police and media reports said.
Two other nearby gondolas were rocked by the accident, and passengers were ejected. At least four people were injured.
The accident occurred in the ski resort town of Soelden, about 25 miles west of Innsbruck, said Edelbert Kohler, head of the criminal police in Innsbruck.
The helicopter was carrying the concrete to the top station of the cable car lift when the accident occurred, Kohler told The Associated Press. The Austria Press Agency said the piece of concrete weighed more than 1,500 pounds.
Cable car company executive Jakob Falkner told Austrian state television the concrete hit one of the gondolas. Kohler later verified that account.
Falkner said four people — including children — were hurt. He also said some victims appeared to be foreigners.
Red Cross officials quoted by the Austrian news agency said seven people were injured — five of them seriously.
Twelve rescue helicopters, including some from the police and army, flew to the scene, and dozens of emergency workers rushed there on foot.
The glacier skiing area around Soelden — some of it as high as 9,850 feet — is popular with summer tourists, who flock to its perennially snow-covered alpine peaks.
The accident evoked memories of the 1998 ski lift tragedy in neighboring Italy, where a low-flying U.S. Marine jet sliced a gondola's cables, killing 20 people.
Monday's accident also appeared to be the worst of its kind since 155 skiers and snowboarders died in a November 2000 cable-car fire — Austria's deadliest winter resort tragedy.