Amusement Ride Industry: Behind this Curtain

Rollercoaster safety at amusement parks

In response to an article titled: Ride experts call 11-year-old Pleasantville girl’s fatal fall from Wildwood’s Morey’s Pier Ferris wheel a freak occurrence – By RICHARD DEGENER and DAN GOOD


First Ferris wheel being built in 1893

A word within the title of the article by Degener and Good reflects my next concern: “FREAK” occurrence. This is a word that is thrown around in this industry a lot when referring to how incidents/accidents sometimes occur. Select amusement ride experts and park officials considered this a “FREAK” occurrence- a concept the boggles my mind. “FREAK” is defined as sudden and apparently causeless change or turn of events as defined by: This accident was not sudden or causeless.

The industry has been on notice concerning this type of incident/accident for years as a result of its knowledge of other publicized incidents similar to this one. They have done little to nothing to address it the known problem. As stated before, 10 similar incidents/accidents were noted over a 10 year period concerning Ferris wheels. Abiah Jones death could have been prevented with some very basic improvements gleaned from simple observations from previous incidents/accidents. Degner and Good’s article states that: “A ride is designed for the risks foreseen and that every ride is designed to consider those risks.” I could give that statement some credence concerning the original renderings of a Ferris wheel some 200 years ago; however, a basic safety analysis would reveal serious safety flaws that are backed up with evidence that patrons do fall from heights while experiencing these rides/devices – times have changed.

Good example of a problem solved; The London Eye (Ferris wheel) in England has a fully glassed in cabin. Granted, this device is much taller (close to 500 ft.), yet falls from heights usually don’t discriminate. To add fuel to the fire, Kathy Fackler,, June 21, 2006 wrote:

“The Giant Wheel was designed with open cars, no restraints at all, and a maximum loft of 90 feet. Despite the significant fall hazard, the manufacturer approved the ride for use by unaccompanied children as young as four years old. As a comparison, note that a U.S. employer can’t legally send a trained adult worker 9 feet up in a cherry picker without a secure harness and tether.”

There are multiple opportunities to prevent future incidents/accidents from occurring on Giant Wheels (Ferris wheels) or any amusement ride or device. With respect to the Giant Wheel, the industry could require netting, cages, or positive restraints where the patrons are seated with zero access by the patron in order to prevent another similar injury or death. Industry recommendations were issued on June 13th, 2011 (10 days following Abiah Jones death) for all Ferris wheel operators requiring that children be at least 54 inches tall to ride without a parent or guardian, a policy Morey’s management said already was enforced on its piers, and that each gondola have at least two riders (Urgo, J.,

Obviously, this practice does not go far enough. Over the last 100 years or so, the amusement ride and device industry has made major strides in the development and implementation of systems designed to address patron safety. Restraints, emergency shutdown systems, block sensors, anti-rollbacks, machine guards, warnings, fencing, and more have become commonplace on most amusement rides and devices. What is preventing them from addressing this obvious safety oversight? The bottom-line: there was nothing “FREAK” about this terrible and unnecessary tragedy at Morey’s Pier in New Jersey.

Read the next installment in this series: Amusement Ride Industry: It’s the Rider’s Fault

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Brian D. Avery has over twenty five years of experience in the events, tourism and attractions industry. His background is comprised of three areas of expertise: risk and safety management, event design and execution, and education. Brian routinely is asked to speak on the topic of event and attraction safety and provide expert testimony.
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