Newly released emails from the Portland Bureau of Transportation show that metal panels on the Portland Aerial Tram had panels come loose twice before one of those panels fell and struck a woman walking below on Dec. 4.
The emails, obtained by KGW through a public records request, show how city officials reacted to the incident. A tram manger wrote that although panels had come loose before, this was the first time a fail-safe system didn’t work, allowing the panel to crash onto a pedestrian bridge below.
The woman who was hit by the panel was not seriously injured.
"This is the first time it's fallen, but in the last 12 years and almost 500,000 rides, the panel has popped loose twice," said John Brady, communications manager for PBOT.
"In the previous two cases, the safety latches functioned. So the panel didn't come off. It's always a concern and at the same time in 12 years it's only happened twice," he said.
The tram’s manager sent an email shortly after the incident that outlined what happened, including details of previous incidents:
We had an incident at the tram this morning at 11:52am. The top east-facing decorative panel on cabin two fell from the cabin and landed on the Darlene Hooley pedestrian bridge during normal operations.
The panel struck a pedestrian when it fell; she was treated at the scene and released with minor injuries by Portland Fire & Rescue. All panels on both cabins were inspected prior to resuming normal operations.
This is not the first time one of the panels has come loose from a cabin, however it is the first time one of the panel’s secondary safety systems has failed. The design of the tram cabins cause the panels to be susceptible to winds and we closely monitor the panels during wind events. This evening, all panels and secondary safety systems will be inspected and any potential failure points will be addressed. I have attached a picture of the panel that fell onto the bridge.
Tram officials have not said why the fail-safe system broke in the Dec. 4 incident.
An incident report shows that the victim, 21-year-old Rose Sprauer, refused medical treatment. Firefighters treated Sprauer for minor injuries before she left on her own accord.
The 100+ pages of emails also showed how PBOT and OHSU went about alerting the public.
A statement was prepared for internal use due to an influx of employee questions about the incident. The statement was also to be used for anyone inquiring about the incident.
A public statement was not released. An email shows that the Oregonian had contacted PBOT and OHSU based on a tip. The story that the newspaper published caused other media outlets to request the information.
Another email inquired whether anyone from PBOT or OHSU had reached out to Sprauer. A message was left with her, according to a follow-up email.
KGW also obtained inspection records from the tram, which show it was inspected just one month prior to the incident. That report said that "no deficiencies were noted."
Engineers also conducted a surprise inspection in May 2018 as well with similar good results.