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Petition demands better safety measures at Faraya
[January 31, 2013]

Petition demands better safety measures at Faraya

BEIRUT, Feb 01, 2013 (The Daily Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- For 15 minutes, Adel dangled in the air, 12 meters above the icy ground and hanging from the ski lift by just his coat.

High winds had blown the safety bar open, and the 9-year-old, who was sitting alone in the chair, lost his balance. Although the terrified boy screamed for help, the ski lift controller, who has since been dismissed, didn't stop the lift.

Luckily, a maintenance worker at the Faraya Mzaar resort, who had only been in the job three days, then came to Adel's rescue, stopping the lift and then sliding along the rope with his bare hands to pull the boy back up.

It was not until later on that afternoon that his mother, Diana Kassem, heard what had happened, having entrusted him to the resort's ski school, believing him to be under safer guidance than with her and her husband, despite the fact she competed in skiing championships for Lebanon in 2009.

Adel, who managed to remove his skis while hanging from the lift, to minimize his weight, is only now safe because the family "were blessed by God and angels," Kassem tells The Daily Star.

"Even in ski school, we would have thought he would be safer than skiing with us," she says.

And while the school had her cellphone number, and she was at the resort on a different slope, she did not learn of the incident until picking him up several hours later.

An experienced skier, who has been skiing since he was 4, Adel was left traumatized, his mother says. "He had been struggling to open the bar, and then suddenly it opened. With 30 kph winds, you don't let children go up, or on their own in a ski lift." Kassem has now launched a petition, urging the Faraya Mzaar owners to introduce better safety measures.

"When I was younger, there were more safety measures at the resort and all the controllers were also rescuers and they all came from the mountains," she says.

In the first 24 hours after being launched Tuesday, the petition had gained over 2,000 signatures, and Kassem met Thursday with resort owners to discuss her concerns. The owners were unavailable for comment.

While she says the lift controller was likely daydreaming, as he did not appear to hear her son's cries for help for so long, she does not blame him.

"There were no crisis management procedures in place, but should we really blame him He's clearly not had proper training." Had Ammar, the maintenance worker, not climbed along to save Adel, she dreads to think what might have happened.

The petition reads, "This man might not be there next time this happens to another child.

"Another child might not be wearing four layers of clothes to hold his weight while he is dangling in mid air." "There were no rescue workers at the station, or first aid," she says, nor were any ambulances called, in case he had fallen. "If he had fallen, he would have needed urgent medical attention." The petition states, "From our experience, the way this shocking accident happened is a disgrace to safety, and Faraya Mzaar's staff are untrained and unequipped to handle a situation like this. It is also shocking that with the hefty price tags that everything comes with in Faraya Mzaar ... they are still unable to invest some funds and provide the basic safety needs for their customers." Kassem wants Faraya Mzaar managers to commit to employing more ski rescuers -- trained professionals dotted around the resort on skis -- and one ambulance at each station, rather than just one for the entire resort, and have nets which can be erected under the wires in the case of such situations.

"I want to keep skiing there, and I want my children to be able to keep going, and I want people from all over the world to keep going. I love skiing there and I want to be proud of that," she says. "It's an iconic landmark, but if we keep going like this, it's going to be a landmark that we destroy." Kassem is urging others to sign the petition and is seeking transparency from the resort owners about the steps they will now take. And as the petition adds, "At the same time, this appeal is also our chance to publicly thank a hero named Ammar, who risked his life to save our son."

___ (c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon) Visit The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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