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Rescuers work to evacuate people off ride at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon

Firefighters rescued nearly 20 people who were stuck on an aerial ride at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon Friday afternoon, dangling in the air above lions and crocodiles for more than an hour, officials said.

Mendon Fire Chief William T. Kessler said in a news conference at the zoo late Friday afternoon that a 911 call had come in at 2:42 p.m. reporting “a ride being broken down and people strapped in the chair cars,” according to video from WCVB-TV.

Firefighters arrived by 2:51 p.m. and learned that there 19 people trapped inside eight cars, including 12 adults and seven children, Kessler said. He said zoo officials initially reported more than 40 people trapped and may have rescued as many as two dozen other riders before firefighters arrived.


Rescuers used lifts provided by the zoo and ladder trucks to help bring the people down from the ride, which varies from about 20 feet to 35 feet off the ground, depending on the terrain beneath, he said. There were no injuries reported.

“The Bellingham tower was able to clear two cars with four adults and two children,” Kessler said. “The lifts from Southwick’s Zoo … cleared five cars, with six adults and four children. And one car, honestly we don’t know how it was cleared. We believe it might have been a Southwick’s piece of equipment.”

Everyone was out of the cars by 4:30 p.m. Rescuers then checked the area to make sure no one had jumped from the chair cars, Kessler said.

“We are comfortable that the area’s all clear, and we have released all companies from the scene,” he said.

Bellingham Fire Chief Steven Gentile said in a text message that his crew had helped several “riders off the tram that were above the crocodile and lion pits.”

Zoo officials said Friday evening that guests had been “inconvenienced when it was necessary to close the Skyfari Sky Ride.”


“There was a small oil leak, and to [err] on the side of caution, we chose to close the ride for the safety of all,” the zoo said in a 6:25 p.m. Facebook post. “Guests were assisted off the ride by our trained employees and the Mendon Fire Department. ... The Southwick family is happy that the day ended well for all.”

Video from TV news helicopters showed people stuck on a ski-lift type ride with zoo animals roaming below them.

Globe correspondents Matt Yan and Nick Stoico contributed to this report.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.