All eight people have been pulled to safety from a broken cable car which had been dangling 274m (900ft) over a river canyon in Pakistan for more than 15 hours, officials have said.
Seven youngsters, aged between 11 and 15, and their teacher had been trapped in the gondola following the incident which started when a cable line snapped as the group were travelling to school.
Two of the children were rescued in the daytime by army commandos using helicopters, before the rest were also saved one by one during an even riskier night-time operation with a makeshift chairlift that used the working cable to get to the stricken carriage.
Television footage earlier showed a child being lifted off the gondola in a harness by a helicopter and then carried to the ground.
Commandos could be seen on TV trying to lower themselves on ropes from choppers towards the compartment, which was hanging precariously at an angle.
The helicopter operation was then called off as night fell with six people still inside the cabin in a remote mountainous area in Battagram district, about 125 miles north of the capital Islamabad.
Flood lights were installed on the ground and the others were saved as the operation continued in the dark.
Pakistan‘s caretaker prime minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that all seven youngsters had been rescued, while his interior minister said the whole group had been saved.
As the children were handed over to their families, most burst into tears, said senior police officer Nazir Ahmed.
“Everyone was praying for this moment,” he said.
Food and water had been supplied to the car during the day, said Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson for the state-run emergency service.
A video showed rescuers and locals near the edge of the ravine, pulling on a cable until a boy attached to it by a harness safely reached the hillside.
Other footage showed a rescuer pulling himself along the cable towards the carriage.
“It is a slow and risky operation. One person needs to tie himself with a rope and he will go in a small chairlift and rescue them one by one,” said local resident Abdul Nasir Khan.
Gulfaraz, a 20-year-old on the cable car, earlier spoke on the phone to local television channel Geo News.
He confirmed eight people were inside, adding one child was unconscious “because he is suffering from some heart issues”.
‘Please help us’
Gulfaraz said: “Others are also in bad conditions, please help us.”
Two army helicopters were sent to the scene but there were complications due to gusty winds in the area and the fact the helicopters’ rotor blades risked further destabilising the gondola, rescue official Shariq Riaz Khattak said.
Ghulamullah, chairman of the Allai valley, told Geo News that “every time the helicopter lowered the rescuer closer… the wind from the helicopter would shake and disbalance”.
He said it would make the children trapped inside “scream in fear”.
Other local officials expressed concern the wind could make the supporting chain “snap”.
Spanning a river and connecting villages in Battagram district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the cable car is used by local villagers to shorten the distance to nearby schools, government offices and other businesses.
The children had been using the cable car to get to school but were stranded from 7am local time on Tuesday (3am UK).
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority said a cable had broken in the lift service and attempts at fixing the fault had been unsuccessful.
Mr Kakar said he has told the authorities to check the safety of all private cable cars.
The incident comes several years after 10 people were killed when a cable car lift installed by local villagers in the popular mountain resort of Murree broke and fell into a ravine hundreds of feet deep in 2017.