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Rider Hanging in Mid-Air Above New York Amusement Ride Could be Case of Restraint Failure

Posted June 26, 2017

By Jonathan A. Karon

You may have seen the disturbing video taken yesterday of a 14 year old girl hanging about 25 feet in mid-air from a gondola ride at an amusement park north of Albany, New York. She eventually let go and was caught by other patrons below. Fortunately, according to news reports, although taken to the hospital, she was not seriously injured. One of the good samaritans who caught her did injure his back.

This happened at Six Flags Great Escape Amusement Park about fifty five miles from Albany and 220 miles from Boston. It occurred on the “Sky Ride” a two person cable car which takes riders in a round trip above the park. According to U.S.A. Today, the girl was on the Sky Ride with her little brother. The cable cars, which look somewhat like colorful ski chair lifts, have no seat belts, just a restraint bar. So far, there has been no explanation of how the girl came out of the seat. The park claims that its inspection revealed that the ride was in proper working order. Not surprisingly, however, the Six Flags’ website states that the ride is “temporarily closed.”

Although we can all be relieved that the outcome wasn’t worse, this terrifying incident should still serve as a wake up call to investigate the sufficiency of the ride’s restraint system.  Many amusement ride injuries are preventable and these include injuries caused by the failure of passenger restraints.

There are well accepted industry standards which concern the importance of properly functioning passenger restraints on amusement rides. For example, standards for the operation of amusement rides require parks to perform daily inspections of the restraint devices on passenger rides. There are also detailed standards for the design of passenger restraints in amusement rides. Ride designers are supposed to conduct a detailed analysis of the necessary restraint system, based on the characteristics of the ride and the anticipated riders.

Restraint bars are usually designed for the “average” person, however, and this can pose dangers when a rider is either smaller than average (preventing the bar from holding them in place) or larger than average (which may prevent the bar from properly closing). Two of the most likely causes of a rider falling or being ejected from a ride are either that the restraint wasn’t designed for someone of that size and weight or that the ride operator failed to make sure it was properly secured. As a result the restraint could be “working as designed” yet wholly inadequate to protect passengers.

I would caution that we do not know what happened in this case and the above merely discusses some of the ways that amusement ride restraints can fail. No good personal injury attorney would attempt to assign blame without a lot more specific information about what happened. Assuming, however, that the girl was not doing something extremely reckless, then the park and the New York State Department of Labor (which regulates amusement rides in New York State) need to take a close look at whether better passenger protection is needed on this ride.

Six Flags Great Escape’s website states that Sky Ride riders will be “safe and sound in your peacefully drifting sky chassis.” To ensure that they are, a careful investigation is needed.

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