Amusement Ride Industry: It’s the Riders Fault


Ride safety at the Carnival on the Ferris Wheel

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

Rider error – James Barber, a former New York ride inspector and current industry safety consultant, was quoted in this article saying that “Maybe she panicked when she realized she was that high or maybe she was standing and the ride came to a stop.” Barber also stated: “It’s a pretty unique accident.” This is another tactic used by the amusement industry – blame the rider. In this case – let’s blame an 11-year-old girl. People make mistakes in every setting, which on occasion, leads to negative and unintended outcomes.

The amusement industry agrees to sell tickets to a wide range of people including those who may be unable to foresee, understand or comply with what is expected of them. The reality of the matter is that the industry is providing ride and device experiences that are unique to each rider. As a result, the industry and external agencies must contend with the fact that the combination of ride and device types, rider decisions, operator considerations, inspections practices, oversight, and design play a role in each incident. The industry is inviting guests to actively participate or be transported on numerous rides and devices of varying extremes. Each rider is unique and their experiences and knowledge with amusement rides and devices diverse (Gubernick, 1999). The amusement ride and device industry should accept this fact and recognize its obligation to address the uniqueness of the riding public and find ways to prevent incidents through better design, education and enforcement. The industry comes across as disingenuous with the continued emphasis on rider error considering the number of factors that result in an amusement ride or device incident/accident.

It is time for the industry to stop the game playing with the public. The public no longer wants to hear this message following an accident –“statistically speaking the amusement ride and device industry is one of the safest forms of entertainment.” That is neither an adequate nor an appropriate response following the injury/death of a patron. Do you want to be that statistic – an injured or dead one? An 11-year-old girl died while riding an amusement ride. Patrons do not want to be blamed for what they may or may not know or understand.

Below are example incidents that are similar to the situation discussed. The industry is fully aware of the problems associated with this type of device and have chosen to forgo any meaning corrective action.

  1. Woman, 60, in critical condition after fall from Ferris wheel (Friday, September 28, 2007) – At the Middle Tennessee District Fair in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, a 60-year-old woman was seriously injured when she fell from the top of a Ferris wheel. The woman fell 30 feet from the top of the ride and landed onto spokes near the center axle of the wheel.
  2. Boy, 3, injured in 25-foot-fall from Ferris wheel (Saturday, August 4, 2007) – At the State Line Heritage Days festival in Dayton, Ohio, a 3-year-old boy fell 25 feet from a Ferris wheel and landed on pavement. He suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized in critical condition, but was expected to recover.
  3. Boy, 6, dead after 90-foot-fall from Ferris wheel (Sunday, June 18, 2006) – At the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, California, a 6-year-old boy died from injuries he suffered in a fall from a giant Ferris wheel. The boy was riding the 90-foot-tall ride alone, even though he was only 6 years old, and the gondolas are not equipped with seat belts or safety restraints.
  4. Mentally disabled man rescued in Ferris wheel mishap (Tuesday, August 2, 2005) – At the Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, Iowa, a 31-year-old mentally disabled man panicked when his seat came to a stop at the top of a 50-foot Ferris wheel. He slid underneath his seat’s lap bar in an apparent attempt to either jump from the ride or climb down to the ground. The man’s caregiver, who was seated next to him, grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back into the seat, but lost her grip. The man then fell about 15 feet to the ride’s hub.
  5. Rider blames lap bar failure for Ferris wheel fall (Thursday, July 14, 2005) – The 48-year-old man who fell from a Ferris wheel at an Indiana carnival on Saturday is blaming the mishap on a faulty lap bar. The man says that, as he attempted to wave to his wife who was standing on the ground, he leaned on the lap bar with one hand and it opened. He fell 20 feet, hitting another gondola during his fall. He suffered a broken leg, a separated shoulder and head injuries.
  6. Man falls from Ferris wheel at carnival (Saturday, July 9, 2005) – A 48-year-old man was hospitalized after he suffered a 20-foot-fall from a Ferris wheel at the Batavia Windmill City Festival in Batavia, Illinois. The man was riding with his nine-year-old daughter, who was not injured. According to witnesses, the man began to rock his car shortly before he fell. His injuries are not life-threatening.
  7. Girl, 13, injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Friday, April 17, 2004) – At Joyland amusement park in Wichita, Kansas, a 13-year-old girl was seriously injured in a 25-foot fall from a Ferris wheel. The girl was riding with two of her friends. Witnesses say that the three were rocking their seat. The victim fell out, struck another seat, and fell to the ground. She sustained injuries to her right arm and leg, head and face.
  8. Boy, 6, injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Saturday, March 20, 2004) – At the Tamworth Show in northern New South Wales, Australia, a 6-year-old boy suffered head injuries and a punctured lung in a fall from the top of a Ferris wheel. The boy was hospitalized in critical condition. Reports indicate that the boy was riding with his father in a gondola near the top of the Ferris wheel when he fell to the ground. “The ride had stopped while people were being unloaded when the man felt his son slipping away from him … and the child fell to the ground,” a police statement said.
  9. Girl dies after fall from Ferris wheel (Monday, July 15, 2002) – A 15-year-old girl who suffered severe head injuries in a 30-foot-fall from a Ferris wheel at Gulliver’s World theme park in Warrington, England on Saturday has died from her injuries.
  10. Boy injured in fall from Ferris wheel (Monday, May 20, 2002) – A nine-year-old boy was injured in a 25-foot fall from a Ferris wheel at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, England after his safety bar somehow opened. The boy was hospitalized with minor injuries. His 14-year-old brother also fell from the ride, but managed to cling to the side of the car until he was safely brought to the ground.

Amusement Ride Industry: Behind this Curtain


Amusement park 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

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 Manufacturers & Operators: A Flawed System


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 

Amusement ride operator safety proceduresThe standard rhetoric spewed by manufacturers and operators highlights meeting the requirements for the posting of signage, height requirements, mechanical specifications and regulations. These are all very necessary and meaningful components of the industry, but meeting those requirements alone does not mean that they provided the safest ride possible. It means that the basic industry requirements were met. Manufacturers provide vital operational information, safety procedures, and inspection criteria to operators of amusement rides and/or devices. When the manufacturer passes along information that is faulty or incomplete, sells a ride that may or may not meet specific design criteria or was not appropriately tested before being placed in the stream of commerce, serious incidents/accidents can, do and will occur.

The owner or operator uses the information as supplied by the manufacturer as their roadmap to develop standard operating procedures, implement formal inspection criteria, project staffing requirements, and much more. When the foundation as provided by a manufacturer has weak links in it so will the owner or operator’s operational safety program. It is understandable there can be unforeseen issues with the manufacture and operation of an amusement ride or device; machinery wears out, breaks, and fails – design flaws and operational oversights emerge. However, a number of the incidents/accidents that have surfaced over the last 10-plus years are a combination of design flaws and operational oversights—pure and simple. The bottom-line— just because requirements are present and accounted for does not mean they are adequate. The industry must utilize the information from previous incidents/accidents to eliminate or further reduce the potential for similar situations occurring. In select situations the expense to correct the identified issue(s) might be significant, but ultimately, I believe saving a life is worth the expense.

Read the next installment in this series