Most vertical drop amusement park rides come with shoulder restraints, but the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns, where a 6-year-old girl died on Sunday, wasn’t.
The reason, according to a television interview with the designer when the ride opened in 2017, was to make it “a little creepier”.
Providence, Utah-based ride designer Stan Checketts didn’t respond to the Denver Post on Tuesday but told Fox31 in 2017 that the ride was purposely designed without shoulder straps, even though most others – including those he designed – had them.
Checketts later founded and sold S&S Sansei, one of the largest manufacturers of amusement rides in the world. According to Josh Hays, the company’s director of sales and marketing, the company has about 150 tower drop rides internationally – the latest in China – and none without a shoulder strap. Checketts was instrumental in the company’s tower drop designs, including one of the first at Universal Orlando.
However, Hays said the Haunted Mine Drop that Checketts designed after it sold and left S&S and was built by Soaring Eagle of Utah used a different design. For one, it’s a free fall ride, while S&S Tower Drops are all pneumatically powered. On the other hand, he was missing the shoulder strap.
“All of our towers have shoulder rests,” said Hays. “When it comes to safety, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel when we have a design that works really well.”
Hays said that modern rides cannot work if one of their safety features is not properly installed.
“All of our trips are electronically monitored to determine if a restraint system is not properly attached,” he said. “There are layoffs. A trip cannot be processed without all restrictions being checked and verified manually and electronically. “
A message to Soaring Eagle’s offices was not returned immediately on Tuesday.
Authorities did not disclose the name of the girl who died on Sunday or the circumstances surrounding her death, but they did say she was from Colorado Springs and was vacationing in Glenwood Springs with her family. They said park workers immediately tried to resuscitate the girl until emergency services arrived at around 7.45 p.m. shortly after the incident. She was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is expected to be performed.
An emergency dispatcher said the girl fell 110 feet while driving and was lying at the bottom of the shaft, according to the 911 footage released Tuesday by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.
The Haunted Mine Drop ride only uses a seat belt and does not have a safety bar, according to a promotional video from Coaster Studios in May 2019 interviewing a park employee. According to the video, the seat belt system is based on a metal bar that is locked in place over the driver’s lap.
The drivers sit face forward and raise their arms and legs at the operator’s instruction, and then the six-seat platform is released and falls down through a mine shaft-like tunnel. The ride takes about 2.5 seconds and drops 110 feet.
A counterweight and braking system are used to slow the ride down as it approaches the ground, according to the video.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a bad idea,” said Hays. “I won’t criticize a design without knowing the intricacies of that design. Safety is a priority for everyone, but that doesn’t mean mistakes won’t happen. “
Ride manufacturers around the world must comply with safety standards. In the US, it’s ASTM International, Hays said.
RES in Switzerland designs all of its drop towers with “individual lap bars … which give the driver more freedom than the restraint over the shoulder,” it says on its website. The height restrictions on 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, from just 37 inches to 51 inches tall, depending on the length of the drop, according to various amusement park websites.
The Tower of Doom at Elitch Gardens in Denver drops riders 60 miles per hour (60 mph) to 60 meters. Its minimum height for a driver is 48 inches.
A typical 6-year-old woman is approximately 42 to 49 inches, according to the Center for Disease Controls and Prevention.
“The challenge here is not knowing the forces that are being placed on the driver,” said Hays. “A six year old is also a tough age because some are very tall or very small. Ideally, the driver restrictions are based on body size, that’s how we design things. “
State officials who regulate amusement park rides were expected to begin their investigations on Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear whether accidents had been reported at Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park since 2017, but accident data collected by the nonprofit Saferparks showed an incident in Glenwood Springs in August 2011.
Although the specific park has not been identified, it turns out that the brakes on an Alpine rollercoaster were not properly applied and the vehicle in which a 57-year-old woman was driving collided with the one in front of it. According to the database, the woman suffered a broken back.
According to RidesDatabase.org, only 13 rides injuries were reported in Colorado between 1999 and 2017 – two of them fatal.
Rides in Colorado must be inspected annually before the public can 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. According to the agency’s website, there are 171 facilities in the state that are licensed for pleasure rides.
A CDLE spokeswoman said the drive had undergone constant inspections since it opened, the last one in June this year.
The inspection records released Tuesday show that all of the park’s rides, including the Haunted Mine Drop, have passed inspection by the Worldwide Safety Group in Plant City, Florida every year since 2019.
The inspector, CW Craven, told The Post on Tuesday that although his “mind was with the little girl’s family” he had no comments and referred questions to Glenwood Caverns.
CDLE said investigators would look at Craven’s inspection work during the investigation.
“We will look at the current state of the journey, relying heavily on the observations of certified external inspectors as well as observations and notes from previous safety inspections,” said spokeswoman Cher Roybal Haavind in a statement. “In addition, interviews with all parties involved will be checked to determine what happened to the best of our knowledge.”
She said the investigation could take “several days or even weeks” and a report would be issued.
Hays said accident investigations usually focus on the cause.
“Is there a design flaw or is the park using approved parts or a third-party supplier?” Said Hays. “Do you carry out maintenance work regularly and do you work as prescribed in the operating instructions?”
Then there’s the human element, he said, noting that many of the rides are run by teenagers.
“You need to make the loading and unloading process simple and easy to understand so that you can be sure that a teen who follows instructions can safely invite a passenger,” he said.