Bill Howley, general manager of TEN 3, a restaurant at the top of Sandia Peak in Albuquerque, NM, said a recent experience he and his employees went through had its positive points. On December 31st he and 18 of his employees were “rushed out of the restaurant around 8:45 p.m. due to increasingly bad weather.” There was concern that their only way out of the restaurant, the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, would soon become inoperable given the conditions. It turns out they were a tad too late.

Howley, his employees, and two tram employees, 21 people in all, became stranded in the air when freezing rain and high winds crossed cables in the system and forced two tramcars to stop. One car contained only one tram employee. The other one held the remaining 20 people. They remained there, dangling and swaying in the high winds and freezing conditions, for 15 hours.

Howley told reporters that the event actually helped his team become closer, saying, “Every restaurant has people that don’t like each other, however, in this particular case we were forced to, for lack of a better term, cuddle – take care of each other, making sure that everyone was OK and safe.”

I suppose impending death has that effect on people.

I’ve ridden the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway, and with heights of almost 1,000 feet above the ground at points, it can be both a beautiful and intimidating ride for the faint of heart. Spending 15 hours trapped in one of those cars on a cold and windy night with 20 people who may or may not like me is not how I would choose to spend my New Year’s Eve. But then again, it isn’t what they chose, either. 

Rescuers were ultimately able to climb a nearby tower and reach one car, entering through its roof. They brought blankets and supplies and eventually helped each occupant repel down a rope to the ground below. They were then flown by helicopter out of the canyon. No one was hurt, at least physically. I suspect some mental scars may exist for a time.

One of the questions that was not addressed by reporters on the scene is what the bathroom conditions on the tram car were like. I ask that because there are no bathrooms on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway cars. It would be, no doubt, one of the first questions that come to the mind of reasonable people. How did they handle that? It is clear after 15 hours someone would need a bathroom. If I were on that thing, swaying in high winds in the middle of the night, I would need one far sooner than later, I assure you.

Alas, due to the woeful state of journalism in this nation today, we will likely never know. Perhaps that is a good thing after all. 

Even though this tram ride was technically a commute from work, I suspect this would be a major exception to the Going and Coming Rule. It is the only way in and out, and it is a conveyance provided by the employer. Also, according to our own WorkCompResearch.com, New Mexico is a so-called “mental mental” state, declaring that “Primary mental impairment occurs without a physical injury” while “secondary mental impairment” would be one associated with a physical injury.

While the substandard journalism failed to capture any substantive information regarding the elimination of human waste while trapped in a box with 20 people dangling 1,000 feet in the air, it did manage to capture plenty of whining about how something more could have been done, or how they shouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with. One tram car occupant told the attentive media that “When you’re dangling for 15 hours in the air – I don’t know – it’s just a surreal experience.” They went on to say, “the ordeal has given [them] pause to ride the tram again and leaves questions as to why they ended up stuck in the first place.” They told reporters that more could’ve, and should’ve, been done, saying, “I just wished there were more precautions in place for this and there was more provisions especially with the weather, they knew the weather was going to be bad – why was this not thought about earlier in the day? I understand it’s New Year’s, it’s a restaurant day but employees are people, too. Yes, we work for you, but our lives don’t revolve around the job.”

Could there be workers’ compensation claims from this event? It is certainly a possibility if one of those people just can’t bring themselves to board the tram again. As a team-building exercise, I would say this one is a loser. They may have become closer, but that was really to avoid freezing to death. Once on the safe and secure surface of good old terra firma, attitudes and opinions may shift a bit. 

Next time I would wait for the bus. 

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