The stalled roller coaster last weekend represented the sixth time this year Carowinds self-reported a ride incident to regulators in the Carolinas.
Investigators from North and South Carolina say the amusement park, which straddles the two states, reported the incidents voluntarily and is required only to report incidents that cause serious injury or mechanical damage.
Fury 325, the park’s newest and fastest roller coaster, stopped unexpectedly on its tracks Saturday, stranding 32 riders. One week before that, the Windseeker stranded 60 passengers about 150 feet high for less than 15 minutes. And a week before that, on April 4, Carowinds staff evacuated about 20 riders from the Flying Ace Aerial Chase, which became stuck.
The park said that in all three cases, no riders were injured, and the rides stopped because sensors detected a glitch. Depending on which state a ride’s entrance and exit are located in, inspectors from either state perform annual inspections of the rides and can also perform unannounced inspections during the operating season.
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Laresa Thompson, the park’s public relations manager, called the safety of guests and and employees “paramount” to Carowinds.
“Our rides have a sophisticated, computerized system that can cause ride stoppages as a precautionary measure. We realize at times this can be an inconvenience to our park patrons, but what’s important to remember is these rides perform as they are designed to do,” Thompson said in an email to the Observer.
Following the disruptions on the Windseeker and Flying Ace Aerial Chase, both in South Carolina, an inspector from the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reinspected each, and both rides passed inspection, department spokeswoman Lesia Kudelka wrote in an email to the Observer.
Following the incident on Fury 325, which is in North Carolina, the state Labor Department’s Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau didn’t send an inspector. Neil O’Briant, the department’s spokesman, said Carowinds reports incidents even when it’s not required to.
“In this case, it didn’t meet the threshold for reporting requirements under the law,” O’Briant said. “Our understanding is that they replaced the part, tested the coaster and had it back in operation.”
Still, the experience rattled some patrons. Kelly Butler, a Forest City resident, said her 15-year-old daughter, Allye, and a friend were on the Fury 325 when it stalled for 20 minutes.
“They were almost about to cry, and that takes a lot,” Butler said. “She’s already been to Carowinds three or four times since it opened (for the season). She loves that ride but now she’s like, ‘I don’t know if I want to get back on it again.’”
South Carolina officials say Carowinds reported three other incidents in April. On April 12, a ride operator on the Windseeker accidentally hit the emergency stop button while guests were on the ride, and officials instructed the park to conduct an operator training refresher before returning to service.
Another incident took place April 6 on the Red Baron, where a 2-year-old girl slipped out of a safety restraint and fell off the plane when the operator hit the emergency stop. She suffered a minor elbow injury. A third incident took place on April 9 when the ride attendant accidentally closed the lap/hip bar on a patron’s hand, resulting in a contusion on the guest’s hand. State officials say the park was awaiting results of an X-ray.
Officials in both Carolinas said they could not immediately provide specific data on Carowinds incidents for previous years. In all of 2013, the most recent data available, there were 26 amusement ride incidents in all of North Carolina that required reporting. Of those, one was a mechanical problem and the rest were “patron error,” O’Briant said – a category that could mean, for example, that a guest stepped out of a ride incorrectly.
Carowinds, owned and operated by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, attracts about 1.9 million visitors each year.