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Friday, September 10, 1999 Published at 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK


Work on London Eye halted

Work on lifting the wheel was to have lasted for 16 hours

Plans to hoist a giant 443ft Ferris wheel into position beside the River Thames have been suspended after a support cable came loose.

British Airways Jamie Bowden: ''The operation will resume after the weekend''
An immediate investigation was launched after the incident, which will delay completion of the huge project at least until next week.

The wheel was being lifted into position in an operation which was to have lasted for 16 hours.

Work stopped when the cable, which was temporarily connecting the central hub of the wheel to the outer part, came loose, causing others to do the same.

Spokesman Jamie Bowden of British Airways, which is sponsoring the project, said the cables would not be a permanent part of the structure, but were being used during the lifting of the wheel.

Work to jack up the wheel, which has been assembled in a horizontal position above the river, involved six cranes and hydraulic lifts. It is a feat of engineering unlike any attempted before.

Project leaders held an emergency meeting immediately after the incident and it was decided to suspend the lifting operation.

Robert Hall looks at the elaborate design of the wheel
Officially called the British Airways London Eye, it is the largest of its kind in the world.

It weighs 1,500 tonnes and when upright, will tower over the historic landmarks of St Pauls and Big Ben.

Project director Paul Baxter said people will be awestruck by its size.

"When it's up I think it will be the first time that people will really appreciate the sheer scale and drama of the structure.

[ image: The observation wheel will be London's fourth-highest structure]
The observation wheel will be London's fourth-highest structure
"There is something in me that says once it is up people will start to think of it as London's equivalent to the Eiffel Tower and I think it is going to make a very dramatic impact on the skyline of London... I think it will become one of those icons for London."

The wheel, which is set to be a major millennium attraction, has faced several cancelled lift dates and criticism that it should have been ready for the summer tourists.

Architects David Marks and Julia Barfield first proposed the wheel in response to a Sunday Times Millennium competition.

Paul Baxter: "It will be London's Eiffel tower"
It has cost more than £20m to build and will be London's fourth-largest structure after Canary Wharf, the Natwest Tower and the BT Tower.

The wheel will continuously revolve slowly - not even stopping for passengers who will hop in and out of glass gondolas.

It was expected to take 16 hours to hoist the wheel to a 65 degree angle. Then one of the world's largest marine cranes was to winch into place two towers that will house the drive system that will eventually turn the wheel.

The wheel will be officially opened on millennium eve by the Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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