QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (AP) — As authorities tried to determine exactly how a 14-year-old Delaware girl managed to fall from a New York amusement park ride, one industry expert said even the strictest safety guidelines won’t prevent accidents if customers don’t follow the rules.
Police said Monday it appears the teen’s actions, and not mechanical malfunctions, caused her to slip under a metal restraining bar on the Sky Ride gondola while riding with her brother Saturday at Six Flags Great Escape. The girl dangled briefly while her brother held her, screaming for help. The ride was stopped, and she dropped about 25 feet into a crowd poised to catch her.
Onlookers, many of them recording the incident with their cellphones, broke into cheers and applause when the girl landed safely in the arms of several people. The videos posted online show her being carried to a nearby park security golf cart before being whisked away from the scene.
Warren County sheriff’s Lt. Steven Stockdale told The Post-Star of Glens Falls that “human error” on the part of the teen caused her to slip out of the two-person gondola, which traverses the popular summertime tourist attraction located in Queensbury, 55 miles north of Albany. Police released no other details on what the girl may have done to cause her to slip under the restraining bar.
The teen was taken to Albany Medical Center for unspecified injuries. Her name hasn’t been released by police. The hospital said it can’t release patient information without the patient’s name.
Stockdale said in an email that “it looks like she’s going to be ok.”
State inspectors cleared the ride for resuming operation, but park officials said the gondolas would remain idle for at least a second day Monday, pending an internal review.
Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a Cincinnati-based industry consultant, said he was familiar with the Sky Ride from visits to the park with his longtime friend, the late Charles Wood, the park’s founder.
“It’s not something that you could just slip out of,” Spiegel said. “If a rider wants to circumvent the safety stipulations, they can do it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they put additional safety restrictions on this ride, maybe safety belts.”
Police said the ride was functioning properly when the girl and her brother got on it around 8 p.m. as the sun was setting on a clear, calm evening. The ski lift-style gondolas, one of the oldest rides in a park that opened in 1954 as Story Town, offer riders a slow-moving view of other attractions.
After the girl began dangling from the gondola, word was relayed to the operator to stop the ride. As the teen helplessly flailed her legs, people on the pavement below yelled for her to let go and they would catch her. Matthew Howard Sr., a contractor from Schenectady visiting the park with his family, was among those who broke her fall.
“I couldn’t let that little girl die,” Howard told The Associated Press on Sunday.