My wife Sherry and I were gone on a sightseeing trip much of Friday, June 17. When we arrived home, there was a message on our answering machine from my friend John.
He told me he had heard on the news that a tram that had been taking visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis had malfunctioned a day earlier, trapping the passengers for a time.
Was he joking?
I jumped on the Internet and saw it was no joke. There they were several stories about the frightening incident. John knew the news stories would strike a chord with me; that’s why he had called.
My wife, three grandsons and I had visited the 630-foot monument on the St. Louis riverfront on Wednesday, June 8, a humid, 97-degree Missouri day. Despite my better judgment and my fear of heights and confined spaces, I decided to join Sherry and two of the boys (the third one declined to go) inside one of the small tram capsules for the four-minute ride up the inside of one of the monument’s legs to the top.
All the way up, I kept thinking to myself, “You’re taking a chance; this thing was built by the low bidder.” But the trip went off without a hitch for us, the view from the top was great and I wrote about the experience in a North Scott Press column published Wednesday, June 15.
According to news accounts regarding the June 16 tram malfunction, a power outage brought the north leg tram, the same one we had taken, to an abrupt halt about 430 feet from the ground and two minutes into the ascent to the arch’s observation deck at its apex.
Forty or so riders were trapped. The small, windowless tram cars went dark, and the air-conditioning stopped. The temperature in them built to more than 100 degrees.
The anxious passengers had an hour-long wait while Arch workers and firefighters manually pulled the tram the rest of the way to the top. I can only imagine what the visitors were going through emotionally and physically during that time.
One passenger reportedly passed out after suffering a panic attack. Some workers also received minor injuries. The cause of the power failure was under investigation.
When the little tram car we were riding in descended on June 8, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had survived what, for me, was probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Now I can guarantee that — it was, indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Copyright 2011 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa