Fire on the Ski Slope is the 9th episode of Seconds from Disaster, searching why so little survived on a tunnel fire.
The Gletscherbahn Kaprun 2Edit
The Gletscherbahn Kaprun 2 was the second way to access the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. The first was the standard cable car. Opened in March 1974, it was a triumph for the Kaprun ski resort. Travelling at 25 km/h it could get to the top before the cable cars. The original train was painted orange and had nothing that greatly increased the risk of fire. Then in 1993, the old trains were taken out and the new blue-black-and-white trains were placed in. THe attendant cabs were made more comfortable by placing fan heaters. However, that fan heater was for the home, NOT on mountain trains. Also, there was a hydraulic braking system. Each train had 120 litres of hydraulic oil. These greatly increased the risk of fire.
A funicular train catches fire as it travels through a tunnel at the Kaprun Ski Resort, killing 155 people. Only 12 survived by walking downwards and out of the tunnel because they were led by a firefighter from Germany. He yelled, "RUN DOWNHILL EVERYBODY!"
CauseEdit161 passengers and one conductor boarded the funicular train for an early morning trip to the slopes. After the passenger train ascended into the tunnel shortly after 9:00am, the electric heater in the unattended conductor's cabin at the lower end of the train caught fire, due to a design fault (It was supposed to be used at home, NOT onboard a train.). The fire melted through plastic pipes carrying flammable hydraulic fluid from the braking system, and the resulting loss of fluid pressure caused the train to halt unexpectedly (this was a standard safety feature). The train conductor, who was in the cabin at the upper end of the train (which was the front, since the train was ascending), realised a fire had broken out, reported it to the control centre, and attempted to open the hydraulically operated train doors, but the system pressure loss prevented them from operating. The train conductor then lost contact with the control centre because the fire burned through a power cable running the length of the track, causing a total blackout.
The passengers, by this stage aware of the fire and unable to exit through the doors, attempted to smash the break-resistant acrylic-glass window in order to escape. 12 passengers from the rear of the train who successfully broke a window by following the advice of another escaped passenger who had been a volunteer fire fighter for 20 years, and travelled downward past the fire and below the smoke.
Many of the still-trapped occupants had by now lost consciousness due to toxic fumes. Eventually, the conductor was able to unlock the doors, allowing them to be manually forced open by the remaining conscious passengers who spilled out into the tunnel and fled upwards and away from the fire. The tunnel acted like a giant chimney, sucking oxygen in from the bottom and rapidly sent the poisonous smoke, heat and the fire itself billowing upwards. All the passengers ascending on foot, as well as the train conductor, were asphyxiated by the smoke and then burned by the raging fire.
The conductor and the sole passenger on the railway's sister train, which was descending the mountain in the same tunnel from above the burning carriage, also died of smoke inhalation. The smoke kept ascending the tunnel, reaching the Alpine Centre located at the top end of the track 2,500 metres away. Two fleeing workers in the Alpine Centre, upon seeing the smoke, alerted employees and customers and escaped via an emergency exit. They mistakenly left the exit doors open, a factor which increased the chimney effect within the tunnel by allowing air to escape upwards more quickly and further intensifying the fire. Meanwhile, the centre was filled with smoke and all except four people escaped the centre. Firefighters reached the centre and saved one of the four, while the other three were asphyxiated.
The fourteen survivors of the disaster were the passengers who travelled downhill past the fire at the rear of the train, escaping the upward-rising fumes and smoke.
Nearly one year after the fire, the official inquiry determined the cause was the failure, overheating and ignition of one of the electric heaters installed in the conductor's compartments that were not designed for use in a moving vehicle. A slow leak of highly flammable hydraulic oil was ignited by the burning heater, which in turn melted the plastic fluid lines further feeding the flames, and also resulting in the hydraulic pressure loss which caused the train to stop and the doors to fail.