Amusement Ride Industry: Behind this Curtain


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-built-1893

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: Dictionary.com. 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, SaferParks.org, 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., 2011-Philly.com).

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

Amusement Ride Incidents/Accidents: Setting the Stage: 1 of 4


Ferris wheel amusement ride safety

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

For this blog, I will primarily focus on the death of Abiah Jones and Ferris wheels in general. Most of the discussion could be applied to additional types of amusement rides and devices. Just to be clear, a Ferris wheel is an amusement ride consisting of a small/large vertical wheel with places for people to sit or stand spaced evenly around the outer circumference (Answers.com, 2011). Ferris wheels have been around for hundreds of years. It was not until the late 1800’s that the quest for large scale Ferris wheels began. A 250 ft. Ferris wheel was debuted in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The design characteristics and features have not changed much during that time-frame.

I am following the events surrounding the recent death of an 11 year girl that fell from a Giant Wheel at Morey’s Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey. Abiah Jones, 11, fell to her death on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 while riding the Giant Wheel (Ferris wheel) attraction. I am concerned about the predictability of the responses and approach that most amusement ride and device owners, operators, industry consultants and organizations provide and take when an incident/accident occurs within the amusement ride and device industry. The typical industry response starts with how safe the industry is and cites it stellar safety record based on the number of rides given annually compared to the number of injuries – and yes, the incident/accident numbers are low – no one argues that fact, but patrons are being unnecessarily injured or killed.

The industry tries to downplay the involvement of the manufacturer and/or operator of the ride or device – warning signs were posted, the rider met the requirements, regulations are stringent, and so forth. The final assault on the intelligence of the riding public comes in the form of misinformation and blame. Quotes get peppered into articles like “freak accident” or “rider error” in a disingenuous effort to inform the public of the type of incident/accident and/or the responsibility of the incident/accident that occurred. What the amusement industry does not want you to know is that similar and known incidents/accidents do happen and that unsuspecting and rule abiding guests can be injured or even die while riding or experiencing an amusement ride or device. The death of Abiah Jones—an 11 year-old girl—falling from a Giant Wheel reflects that reality appropriately.

First and foremost, the numbers of ride/device related injuries and fatalities are low. However, incidents/accidents can, do and will continue to happen within the amusement industry and many of them unnecessarily. The industry is fully aware how most incidents/accidents occur—mainly because of prior incident/accident history gathered from the past 100 years of industry trial-and-error (experimental design, etc.) —a premise that the industry was built on. The industry has progressed and safety has slowly evolved since its early beginnings in the United States, but they have not gone far enough. Giant Wheels (Ferris wheels) have been around for hundreds of years—well beyond any experimental design phase. In fact, most present day amusement rides and devices are direct descendants of rides from the past or follow similar design considerations—and as an industry, they are fully aware of the types of incidents/accidents resulting from use.

It is fairly simple to utilize this historical data to address the problem areas of the industry and require appropriate and meaningful change to prevent known types of incidents/accidents from occurring. Interestingly enough, after doing a quick internet search (10 minutes), I learned of 10 incidents/accidents resulting from falls from Ferris wheels in the United States—the majority of which were from gondola style rides like the Giant Wheel. I would wager that more incident/accident examples exist concerning Ferris wheels. Once again, I will reiterate that the industry has made strides concerning patron safety and that incidents/accidents are more isolated compared to the beginnings of the industry – the true comparison of progress.

The amusement industry has a tendency to compare safety records to other forms of entertainment offerings (playgrounds, bicycle riding, and more) — a diversionary tactic that is irresponsible. Better tactics—show the public your industry progress and explain your continued efforts to further the safety of amusement rides and devices. Certain segments of the industry are responsible for a larger share of the incidents/accidents, nevertheless, they are still occurring and the majority of them could be prevented through better design, education, enforcement and the sharing of information and ideas.

Read the next installment: Amusement Ride Manufacturers & Operators: A Flawed System