Mammoth Lakes, California -- An 18-year-old skier who got caught upside down on a Mammoth Mountain chairlift dangled some 20 feet above the ground for several minutes until she dropped into a net held by rescuers on Thursday afternoon.
The safe ending was caught on camera by onlookers, several of whom posted video on Instagram.
“One of my biggest fears going skiing is that I’m going to accidentally fall off the lift. But not only falling off and now getting caught on the lift, it’s just really my worst nightmare," the skier, Anastasia Semenov, told KTLA hours after the ordeal.
The incident occurred about 12:30 p.m. on chairlift No. 2, Stump Alley Express, out of the Mill area at the Mammoth Lakes resort.
A group of four skiers was trying to get onto the chairlift to go up the mountain when something went wrong.
"We were getting ready to get on the chair when we looked back to sit down and the safety bar was down – but it should have been up. So it was blocking us from sitting down," Semenov explained in an interview via Facetime. "And then my leg and my ski somehow got caught on the foot ledge. And then the machine – the lift – didn't stop, so it just took me up with it."
At least two others ended up in the pit below the lift, while the young woman was hoisted into the air upside down, dangling from her leg, a witness said.
“I heard her mother screaming and the lift cranks to a stop,” said Jana PalmsVista of Santa Monica.
The skier's mother, Dori Semenov, said in an email to KTLA that the chair's safety bar was indeed down as the family tried to get on the lift, and somehow her daughter's leg got caught.
Semenov described the situation as "terrifying," saying she watched her daughter "feeling helpless."
Several lift operators – aka “lifties” – rushed to grab netting and center themselves under Anastasia, who was some 20 feet up, PalmsVista said.
There was “terror in the liftie guys’ eyes,” PalmsVista recalled.
PalmsVista and another man ran over to help the lift operators. Little by little, coaxed by the man, Anastasia inched herself into a position from which she could drop into the net.
A gust of wind came, and the skier fell perfectly, PalmsVista said. She was caught by the net and didn’t hit the ground.
"It happened so quickly – I just let go and fell into the net," Anastasia Semenov said. "They caught me. It didn't hurt at all."
Onlookers cheered as she landed, and she soon gave a high-five to one of the people waiting down below, videos showed.
“Those lift guys were amazing,” PalmsVista said. “Excellent training.”
PalmsVista said her son had worked as a lift operator at Mammoth Mountain; he told her they were trained to respond that exact way in such a situation.
The skier was caught upside down for some five to seven minutes, PalmsVista estimated.
Another witness, a man who volunteers on the mountain, told KTLA one of the lift operators was taken to the hospital after sustaining a broken arm or wrist when he was hit by the skier's falling ski.
Semenov, meanwhile, said she was bruised and a bit shaken up, but was otherwise "feeling fine."
Mammoth Mountain issued a brief statement to KTLA about the incident, saying: "Mammoth Mountain personnel and other guests quickly responded, using a catch net to safely rescue the skier. The skier was uninjured and returned to skiing that afternoon."
The incident happened on a busy day on the mountain, which is in the Eastern Sierra about 250 miles north of Los Angeles and a popular winter sports destination from Southern California.
Snow was falling in Mammoth Lakes Thursday and parts of the mountain were closed due to weather.