Owner Blames Riders Who Fell From Washington Ferris Wheel

May 22, 2017

The company that owns a Ferris wheel three people fell off in Washington state says they had been asked to remain seated during the ride’s previous rotation.

Ron Burback, president of Portland, Oregon-based Funtastic Rides, told The Seattle Times the accident was horrific and rare. The company has hired an independent ride inspector, but Burback said he does not believe it was caused by mechanical failure or operator error.

The accident happened Thursday on The Phoenix Wheel, a 40-foot-tall (12-meter-tall) ride at the Rhododendron Festival in Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula northwest of Seattle.

A 59-year-old woman, a woman in her 40s and a 7-year-old boy fell about 12 to 15 feet (3.5 to 4.5 meters) when the gondola they were in tipped Thursday. The 59-year-old, who landed on the ride’s deck, was hospitalized with serious injuries, while the others, who landed on grass, were treated and released.

According to Burback, a broken part found on the deck isn’t part of the equipment’s assembly; instead, it belongs to the gear used to crank the ride up for transport.

“We’re looking at something the occupants did,” he said. “It could be a combination of different motion or momentum that occurred in that tub to make it happen.”

But a witness who was riding in the next gondola told KING-TV it didn’t appear the three were moving around before their basket tipped.

“From what I saw, they did not start moving back and forth until the car itself started coming apart and they were trying to hold on,” Dusty Janke-Call said.

Janke-Call said she heard a grinding noise right before the accident.

“It went all the way up, and as it started coming back down almost at the very top, the cart right above us started shaking,” she said.

Matthew Erlich, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industries, said his agency’s main responsibility in the ongoing investigation is to ensure Funtastic’s rides all have their permits – which they did – and the company is certified to operate – which it is.

The company’s rides were all inspected and permitted in the fall and have operating permits good through Oct. 1, Erlich said. Given Thursday’s accident, the permit for The Phoenix Wheel will be revoked and the ride will need to be inspected again, he said.

Funtastic is covered by a $1 million per incident insurance policy, which is required by L&I, Erlich said.

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