Report: Faulty Cable, Operator Response Factors in Kentucky Accident

June 2, 2008

A teenager whose feet were severed in an accident at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom last summer likely would have suffered only cuts and scrapes with swifter action from the ride’s operators, according to an investigation report released May 30.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture report blamed a faulty cable and slow response by the amusement park ride operators as the largest factors in the accident last June. A loud noise and passengers’ screams to stop the ride likely gave the operators enough time to halt it and avoid serious injuries, the report said.

“In the KDA’s opinion, the injuries to the ride patrons probably would have been limited to cuts and scrapes had the emergency stop button been pressed, in accordance with training,” the report said.

Kaitlyn Lasitter’s legs were severed when cables snapped on the Superman Tower of Power ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville. Doctors were able to reattach her right foot, but not her left.

State officials released their report following months of investigation.

Randall Lasitter, Kaitlyn’s father, said the findings did not surprise him. Lasitter, who has pushed for tighter regulation of amusement park rides, said the incident could have been avoided with better training and emergency preparation. He did not blame the ride operators personally, but said they were poorly trained.

“That’s too young for a child to be put in a position to have to make a snap decision,” Lasitter said. “It’s just a system of failure all the way around.”

Both ride operators were under 18 years old, according to the report.

Kentucky Kingdom spokesman Carolyn McLean said the park takes the matter seriously and has audited maintenance, training and safety procedures. She says Kentucky Kingdom is committed to the safety of its guests and is working with the Lasitter family to ensure Kaitlyn is taken care of.

The ride, which was closed for good and dismantled after the accident, lifted passengers 177 feet, then dropped them at speeds of more than 50 mph.

Investigators said multiple factors converged in leading to the accident, but the cable itself snapped because of fatigue and deterioration over time.

A state inspector who examined the ride during an April 5, 2007, inspection did not find any cable breaks, the report said. State regulators, however, did not have the latest ride manual to base their inspections on, the report said.

Nevertheless, it was not scientifically possible to determine how long the cable had been in a poor condition or identify one specific reason for the cable to snap, according to the report.

Semih Genculu, an expert who analyzed test results on the cable, said it likely deteriorated gradually. Genculu, a vice president at Applied Technical Services Inc., told investigators that park personnel may have been able to spot the cable’s worsening condition if they were following maintenance manual inspection instructions, the report said.

During the incident, the ride made a loud noise within seconds of beginning its ascent. The noise prompted people on the ride to yell for operators to stop the ride, according to the report. One of the operators hit the stop button, but too late to have an effect.

Lasitter’s family is suing Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, claiming the park failed to maintain the ride and equipment and ensure riders’ safety. The amusement park has denied liability in court filings.

Speaking in Washington in mid-May, Lasitter called her ordeal “horrific” and said “nobody should ever have to go through what I’ve been through.”

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is sponsoring legislation that would place amusement park rides under the jurisdiction of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer told Kentucky lawmakers earlier this year that more money was needed for amusement park ride inspections throughout the state. The ride Lasitter was on, however, had received its annual inspection, Farmer said.

Earlier this year, the Kentucky General Assembly responded to the accident by passing a state law that prevents most high schoolers from operating amusement park thrill rides.

Investigators also fined the park $1,000 for not properly maintaining the ride, but found “no evidence of malfeasance.”

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