NEW YORK – A simple evening commute turned into an overnight rescue effort for dozens of people stuck on two New York City cable cars Tuesday night. The cars lost power at the start of rush hour on Tuesday, leaving 69 people stranded, including at least a dozen children and babies.
One car was suspended high over the East River, while the other was stranded over Manhattan. One of the tramcars had 46 passengers plus an operator, the other 21 and an operator, police said.
The rescue effort was concluded early Wednesday morning, with the last of the 69 people being returned to solid ground thanks to a daring rescue by police.
The passengers from one car were plucked one by one and transferred to a rescue gondola shortly before dawn, while those in the second car, at the edge of Manhattan, were taken out with a crane.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway shuttles passengers between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, and operates at heights reaching 250 feet.
One young passenger described the mood in his car as almost festive, with people singing and telling jokes. Police delivered food, water and diapers to the passengers while they waited.
The boy's mother, Robbyn Maier said her 12-year-old son, Dax, was going to Roosevelt Island to play tennis when he got stuck. She talked to him by cell phone.
"He's like a trouper through it all," she said. "He's really a little hero."
But, she added, "He's not coming this way to tennis anymore."
Of course, there were problems spending that much time in a cable car.
"Well, there was this one kid who peed in a cup," Dax told ABC's "Good Morning America."
He said he told himself not to look down while being rescued.
"When I was climbing out the window, I was just a little scared, because one, what if I miss it, two, what if I flip, and I might fall into the river, so I just kept looking up," he told a cable news channel.
Officials were trying to determine what caused the 5:15 p.m. power outage on the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which offers breathtaking views of the city and also a commuter route for island residents, said Herb Berman, president of the agency that operates the system.
Tramcars on the system stall occasionally, the last time around Labor Day, Berman said. This time, the main and backup power systems failed, according to police.
Lynn Krogh, spokeswoman for Gov. George Pataki, said the state Department of Labor would investigate before allowing service to resume.
About 10,000 people live on Roosevelt Island, which also is accessible by bridge and subway. The island in the East River is about 2 miles long and 800 feet wide.
The tram system, which opened in 1976, is the only commuter cable car system in North America, according to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. Web site.
It has been featured in movies such as "Spider-Man," "City Slickers" and the Sylvester Stallone thriller "Nighthawks." The trams travel 3,100 feet in about 5 minutes at an average speed of 16 mph, the Web site says.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.