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Carowinds ride malfunctions, stranding dozens

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

The WindSeeker ride at Carowinds malfunctioned Sunday, stranding roughly 64 passengers high above the amusement park for more than an hour. The malfunction happened at 1:15 p.m. – a year and two weeks after the same ride malfunctioned in a similar way at the popular park.

No one was reported injured, according to a Carowinds spokesperson, and the ride was expected to reopen on Monday.

According to a statement from Chris Kirby, director of marketing for Carowinds, “A sensor on WindSeeker was engaged causing the ride’s safety system to activate as the ride began its ascent of the tower.”

News of the malfunction spread quickly over social media, with pictures cropping up on Twitter showing passengers on the immobile ride high in the air, their feet dangling.

Logan Parce and his friends met at the park about 12:30 p.m. Sunday for a day at Carowinds. WindSeeker was the first ride they tried because “it’s the tallest ride in the park.” Parce and his girlfriend even talked a friend who was afraid of heights into going along.

But they soon realized something was wrong. The ride slowed, then stopped, he said. Later, the music that accompanies it stopped, and a voice came over the loudspeaker, saying technicians were working on the ride.

Parce said he was never really afraid. He could see uptown Charlotte from his seat. It was quiet, because few sounds filtered from the park below. The chair rocked a bit when the wind blew, but he never felt in danger.

“Everyone was dealing with the situation in a different way,” said Parce, 24. “Some people were making jokes. A couple people were freaking out. One kid got sick and threw up.”

Chris Melton watched from below. He had told his son Hunter that the 11-year-old could go on one more ride before lunch.

“A few minutes into it, we were talking to some friends and realized it had stopped. Then people from the park started walking up.”

Melton said the people on the ride were relatively calm throughout. A few worried parents pressed park officials for information.

“It was a little emotional,” Melton said. “My kid’s up there. I wanted them to get him down.”

Hunter was fine afterward, Melton said.

“He was excited, pumping his fists,” Melton said. “He said ‘That was awesome. I wouldn’t want to that again, but that was awesome.’ ”

Melton said his family has season tickets and will probably return to the park again. But he was uncertain about the ride.

Parce was adamant: “I will not ride that ride again.”

It was unclear whether Sunday’s problem was the same one that shut down the ride a year ago.

On July 14, 2012, the ride’s safety system activated, suspending 25 riders about 30 feet off the ground for nearly three hours.

WindSeeker also has malfunctioned several times at Knotts Berry Farm in California. On Sept. 7, the ride stopped, stranding 15 people because of an electrical relay problem, according to park officials. On Sept. 19, it stopped again, stranding 20 riders for 3 1/2 hours because of a brake malfunction.

The malfunctions caused Cedar Fair, which operates both parks, to suspend WindSeeker operations at six locations, including at Carowinds. The company conducted an investigation and resumed operations of the rides.

At 301 feet, WindSeeker is the tallest ride at Carowinds. On the three-minute ride, passengers swing in a circle in chairs attached by metal arms to a rotating gondola. The ride has a top speed of 30 mph and “provides breathtaking aerial views of not only the park, but of the greater Charlotte region,” according to Carowinds’ website.

Cedar Fair operates the WindSeeker at Carowinds; Knotts Berry Farm, Cedar Point and Kings Island in Ohio; Kings Dominion, outside Richmond, Va.; and Canada’s Wonderland in Ontario, Canada.

According to Cedar Fair, the WindSeeker’s safety system has activated “on more than one occasion for various reasons at various locations.”

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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