Most vertical drop amusement park rides are designed with shoulder straps, but not the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns, where a 6-year-old girl died on Sunday.
The reason, according to a TV interview given by its designer in 2017 when the ride opened, was to make it more exciting, “a little scarier”.
Ride designer Stan Checketts of Providence, Utah, did not respond to the Denver Post on Tuesday, but in 2017 told Fox31 that the ride was intentionally designed without a shoulder harness, although most of the others – including those of his own design – had them.
Checketts founded and later sold S&S Sansei, one of the largest manufacturers of amusement ride design in the world. According to Josh Hays, the company’s sales and marketing manager, the company has around 150 laps of descent internationally – the latest in China – and none are without shoulder harnesses. Checketts was instrumental in the company’s tower designs, including one of the premieres at Universal Orlando.
But Hays said the Haunted Mine Drop, which Checketts designed after selling and leaving S&S and built by his company, Soaring Eagle Zipline in Utah, uses a different design. On the one hand, it’s a free fall ride while the falls from the S&S tower are all pneumatically propelled. For another, the harness was missing.
“All of our towers have shoulder straps,” Hays said. “When it comes to safety, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel when we have a design that works really well.
Hays said modern rides cannot operate if one of their safety devices is not properly installed.
“All of our rides are electronically monitored to see if a hold is loose,” he said. “There are layoffs. A trip cannot be dispatched without all constraints being checked and verified, both manually and electronically.
A message to Soaring Eagle’s offices was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, the Garfield County Coroner’s Office said in a statement it did not plan to release the child’s name, saying it balanced disclosure of information to the public with the privacy of families .
The statement also said a forensic pathologist identified multiple blunt force injuries during an autopsy, and the cause and mode of death were pending investigation.
Authorities said the girl was from Colorado Springs and was on vacation in Glenwood Springs with her family. They said park workers immediately attempted to resuscitate the girl until paramedics arrived shortly after the incident at around 7.45pm. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
An emergency services dispatcher said the girl fell to 110 feet while the amusement ride was in operation and lay at the bottom of the well, according to the 911 recording released Tuesday by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office .
The Haunted Mine Drop ride only uses a seat belt and does not have a seat bar, according to a promotional video from Coaster Studios in May 2019 in which a park employee was interviewed. The seat belt system relies on a metal rod that is locked in place on runners’ knees, according to the video.
The riders sit facing forward and raise their arms and legs in the direction of an operator, then the six-seater platform is released, plunging into a tunnel shaped like a mine shaft. The trip takes approximately 2.5 seconds and descends 110 feet.
A counterweight and a braking system are used to slow the run as it approaches bottom, according to the video.
Amusement ride manufacturers around the world must adhere to safety standards. In the United States, it’s ASTM International, Hays said.
RES in Switzerland designs all of its fall towers with “individual knee bars … giving the rider more freedom from shoulder restraint,” its website says. The height restrictions for its rides are set at 41 inches.
The haunted mine drop had a height restriction of 46 inches, according to the park’s website. Other vertical drop rides across the country vary in height restrictions, ranging from 37 inches to 51 inches depending on the length of the drop, according to various theme park websites.
The Tower of Doom at Elitch Gardens in Denver drops runners from 200 feet to 60 mph. Its minimum height for a rider is 48 inches.
A typical 6-year-old woman is around 42 to 49 inches tall, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The challenge here is not knowing the forces imposed on the runner,” Hays said. “A 6 year old is also a difficult age, because some are very tall or very small. Ideally, rider restrictions are based on height, that’s how we think of it.
State officials who regulate amusement park rides were due to begin their investigation on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park had reported accidents since 2017, but accident data collected by nonprofit Saferparks showed an incident in Glenwood Springs in August 2011.
While the specific park is not identified, it does show that the brakes on an Alpine roller coaster were not properly applied and the vehicle a 57-year-old woman was in collided with the one in front. The woman suffered a broken back, according to the database.
According to RidesDatabase.org, only 13 amusement ride injuries, including two fatalities, were reported in Colorado between 1999 and 2017.
Colorado rides must be inspected annually before the public are allowed to ride them, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, which regulates them. Parks hire an inspector from an approved list of 47 people provided by the agency. There are 171 licensed facilities for rides in the state, according to the agency’s website.
A spokesperson for the CDLE said the ride has still passed inspections since it opened, the last in June this year.
Inspection records released Tuesday show that all of the park’s rides, including the haunted mine site, have been successfully inspected by the Worldwide Safety Group in Plant City, Florida, every year since 2019.
Detective CW Craven told the Post on Tuesday that while his “thoughts are with the little girl’s family,” he made no comment and addressed questions to Glenwood Caverns. The park, which closed after the girl’s death, will reopen on Saturday.
CDLE said investigators would review Craven’s inspection work during the investigation.
“We will review the current condition of the trip, relying heavily on the observations of certified third-party inspectors, as well as the observations and notes from previous safety inspections,” spokeswoman Cher Roybal Haavind said in a statement. . “Interviews with all parties involved will also be reviewed to determine to the best of our knowledge what happened.”
She said the investigation could take “several days or even weeks” and a report will be released.
Hays said accident investigations typically focus on the root cause.
“Is there a design flaw or is the fleet using approved parts or a third party?” Hays said. “Do they perform maintenance regularly and operate as prescribed in the operations manual? “
Then there’s the human element, he said, noting that many rides are operated by teenagers.
“You need to make the loading and unloading process simple and easy to understand so that you can be sure that a teenager who follows the instructions can load a passenger safely,” he said.