Cable car passengers trapped over East River

Dozens of people in two cable cars are hanging hundreds of feet above New York’s East River today, hours after the system lost power because of a mechanical problem.

Dozens of people in two cable cars are hanging hundreds of feet above New York’s East River today, hours after the system lost power because of a mechanical problem.

Both cars of the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which shuttles commuters and tourists between Manhattan and nearby Roosevelt Island, stalled at about 5.15pm yesterday local time, stranding about 70 people, said Herb Berman, president of the agency that operates the system. No injuries were reported.

A slow-moving, diesel-powered rescue basket that holds about 10 people shuttled up to the cars, and two police officers began plucking passengers from the cars to take them back to the island.

Police, who delivered food, water and nappies to the passengers, said the effort would take several hours.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the rescue effort was going smoothly. At least two groups of passengers had been brought down.

“It does seem to be working exactly the way it was designed,” he said.

About a dozen of those stranded were children or babies, Berman said. He did not know what caused the mechanical failure.

The tramcars – which offer breathtaking views of the city from up to 250 feet - were still stalled after midnight while engineers worked to restore power.

One of the tramcars had 46 passengers plus an operator. The other had about 20 passengers and an operator, police said.

On the ground, crowds gathered to watch the rescue. George Teodorescu said he spoke to his father, one of the stranded operators, by mobile phone.

“It didn’t sound like anyone’s being uncivil or anything,” he said.

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 mobile phone.

“He’s like a trouper through it all,” she said.

The tram system, which opened in 1976, is the only commuter cable car system in North America, according to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation website.

The system has been featured in such movies as Spider-Man and City Slickers.

Roosevelt Island, which lies in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, is about two miles long and 800ft wide. About 10,000 people live on the island, which also is accessible by bridge and tube train.

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