Questions of safety on the Winner Creek Hand Tram following weekend tragedy

GIRDWOOD, Alaska (KTUU) - It's a tragedy on one of the most popular trails in our area -- an Anchorage man fell to his death from the Glacier Creek Hand Tram in Chugach state park on Saturday.

Jeffrey Hummel, owner of Hummel's Flowers in Anchorage, fell off a dock station at the Glacier Creek Hand Tram and died Saturday, June 8. (Image Courtesy of Myla Hummel)

[See original story: Man who fell near the handtram in Girdwood was helping others cross, Police say]

Channel 2 went to that area Monday to take a look at what kind of safety measures are in place. Officials from Girdwood Fire, Alyeska Resort, and Whittier Police all assisted in the rescue effort, but none responded to requests for comment on what kind of safety measures are in place to prevent things like Hummel’s death.

“USE CAUTION AT ALL TIMES. USE THIS TRAM AT YOUR OWN RISK.” Those words are written on a sign posted to the tram – one of the first things you see when you reach it from the trail leading up from Crow Creek Rd.

Apart from the written warnings, there are safety nets to catch people who might enter or exit the tram before it’s fully docked inside the terminals on either side. Both Whittier Police and Hummel’s family confirmed he missed this net when he lost his balance and fell after attempting to help another hiker.

Several people on their way to the tram Monday said they were disappointed when they found signs reading “Closed until further notice,” but understood the reasoning.

Anchorage resident Tami Holt said she’s taken her family on the tram for years and never had an issue with safety.

"You climb on and make sure everybody is on, and then you put the chain across to lock it,” Holt said, walking Channel 2 through the process of riding the tram. “And then you just pull yourself across. You don't get off, and you don't take off the chain until it's docked at the station on the other side."

While thousands of people like Holt use the hand tram every summer, Hummel's death shows that there are still risks.

The Hummel family, owners of Hummel’s Flowers in Anchorage, said they lost a father and husband on Saturday. However, they expressed gratitude for the efforts of emergency rescue teams and volunteers who spent hours trying to save him.

“So many people, including multiple off-duty medical professionals, were on the trail and quick to assist and stay for hours until the end,” Mineko Hummel, Jeffery Hummel’s wife, said in a statement to Channel 2. “Our family truly appreciates all of the help we received that day.”

Mineko said they have been receiving an outpouring of support since Hummel’s death, “and it’s clear that he was able to touch the lives of so many people.”

The family plans to hold a celebration of life ceremony at a future date, where they will ask those who knew Hummel to share some of their favorite memories.

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