The 911 calls have been released, an operator has been charged and locals are learning more about the thrill ride that injured five Vortex passengers. Disturbing details are surfacing, especially with what happened to The Hawk.
Vortex riders fell approximately the distance of about 20 feet at the North Carolina State Fair just after 9:15 pm Thursday night due to a malfunction. First call was made just after 9:16.
The 911 calls sparked further fury involving the Vortex accident. Locals, including N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, are "furious" and in disbelief when the operator of the ride was arrested Saturday night for "tampering" with the mechanics after an inspection.
Since the fair has been open visitors who rode the Vortex noted the moments ignored when the ride malfunctioned but continued. We'll get to that.
911 calls to dispatchers.
911 calls unveil witness accounts as if from a horror film, but it's all too real. The link is flooding with listeners on Sunday (abc.go.com/wtvd/video?id=9301419).
Various witnesses called 911 describing extremely injured 'badly' bleeding people who fell on the Vortex platform. The Vortex is a dangerous monster of an amusement ride that swivels, swirls and spins with two arms and seat buckets. The platform is hard, cold, solid. That's the location the riders landed on.
Callers were highly concerned because the injured weren't moving at all. One caller described blood coming from a head.
Chaos made it difficult for crowd control as a woman on the phone to 911 was being told to move back. Hearing the 911 calls can bring chills as if you were there yourself.
A claim that it almost appeared as if the operator accidentally hit the "go" button (but that wasn't why the ride started up again) gives those who weren't at the fair a visual connection as to how confusing Thursday night was.
Emergency services responded to the scene at ride #40, the Vortex, near gate 4 and 5. You could see the tip of the Vortex from Youth Center Road.
Reports of an issue with the solenoid switch on the Vortex was said to be repaired. All week the Vortex showed signs that trouble was coming. Unfortunately, it took riders to fall, others were dragging to some extent, to measure up how unsafe the ride actually was.
Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, 46, from Georgia, the Vortex operator, was charged on Saturday with three felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting bodily harm.
Tutterrow is accussed of, again, tampering with equipment after an inspection. Now, we turn to The Hawk.
The Hawk, March 13, 2004, Rockin' Raceway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee:
The Hawk was not as thrilling as the Vortex, but just as dangerous. It's a flat ride with a unique towering design. June Carol Alexander, 51, fell to her death at 60 feet after the ride continued the 360 degree motion. The safety harness was not secured due to hot wiring (tampering with the wire).
When a harness is not attached The Hawk wasn't designed to move. But it did. How?
A black "jumper wire" showed up between two spliced wires, a.k.a. rigging, within the electrical cabinet. The jump wire bypassed safety features involving the harness.
And then there's the brakes which were worn.
The investigation also found that a temporary motor coupling was stretched for four years and a new one that had never been installed.
No witnesses, not a fingerprint, no one claimed responsibility for the spliced wires and so forth. Yet there was a park manager responsible for his/her ride and passengers, including maintanence.
Charles Stan Martin, the manager, was charged with second degree murder and reckless homicide.
The Hawk was noticed at a Florida trade show and purchased for $475,000 specifically for Rockin' Raceway. The family of June Alexander sued for $96 million. They didn't only go after Martin, they went after Rockin' Raceway and the company that produced the ride.
Critical safety devices were compromised. Sound familiar? Those are the same words you'll hear on the news today.
Rideaccidents.com reports of six ride related deaths and injuries since July of this year (not related to the Vortex).
Besides the Six Flags of Texas tragedy that you have heard of by now, the Zumur swing ride also passed inspection prior to a separate accident. The chain connected ride cut short to a sudden stop and seats cut into each other injuring 12 children and 1 adult in Connecticut (ironically as some call Connect-I-Cut).
Gondola (seating compartment) fell off a Ferris Wheel in Argentina sending riders close to 80 feet downward. 2 sisters died (12-year-old and 14-year-old) and 7 others injured.
Zipper ride in Montana had one woman falsely under the assumption that it was alright to unload, while the ride was 8 to 10 feet from the ground. She was injured.
Carowinds in our great state proves that rides can be used over and over again since it just might be nothing at all. Windseeker stalled out leaving over 5 dozen passengers stranded. Windseeker just may have been oversensitive on safety features. Same thing happened with another Windseeker in Ohio and California.
Another report involves 6 children injured when the Bounce house blew up and collapsed on them. That was in Idaho.
There's a reason you're reading of all these unfortunate reports. I'll get to that.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions suggests that the ratio of injuries is 1 in 9 million ride users in a rounded figure of 300 million park visitors. Approximately 4,400 children are injured in amusement park rides each year. Do the math.
In the past Jim Barber, spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials defined inflatables the true hidden danger over thrill rides such as the Vortex, roller coasters, and massive tail spinning experiences.
That was then, this is now.
Four days prior to the North Carolina State Fair Vortex malfunction a boy fell from a Mississippi Sky ride. According to his mother his injuries included two broken wrists and blood to the brain. The safety bar appeared to be functioning properly according to the inspection at that state fair.
An amusement park in China, the same. Passed inspection but left 3 injured. One person had to undergo emergency operation in order to save their life. Inspected.
The Ferris Wheel incident that killed 2 sisters (as located above) and injured 7 had issues the week before. It was "repaired" then inspected prior to.
The pattern of inspection is incredibly off the mark since if an inspection is to save lives than why are certain rides passing? Including the Vortex. It's easy to pin this accident on one guy, and even though he is part at fault, there's some missing opportunities here to further save lives.
Ride operators usually do not maliciously hot wire machinery because it's a slow day. But if they are pushed into a corner than perhaps they may take the unfortunate risk taking step to save their own jobs.
Tutterrow was contracted through an independent company to run the Vortex. And then there's the process in which a person is trained properly. The mechanical box, the wires that run through, the entire formation of the amusement ride itself is complex. An inspector without a current test device and doesn't know exactly what wire goes where can walk into the inspection with a blind eye. The operators, however, are fully responsible for maintaining a ride and should know the wires like the back of their hand. It's the risk they take for the low wage they actually make.
Question is, is it time to change the policy and up the credentials of maintaining and repairing carnival rides and to take a second look at the inspection process?
According to ABC 11 WTVD, after reporting the accident, viewers began sending them emails over their experience with the Vortex during the entire fair prior to the accident.
One person claimed that the safety bar unlatched itself and swung up, hitting the operator in the head. Another witness to the ride during the week noticed the safety bars on the left and right weren't working in sync.
The reasoning behind my assumption that the Vortex ride operator, or someone who had access to the electrical panel, may have tampered with wires. When you mess with a wire it could change other features, even safety features. I just went through this with a heater repair which came with many safety features.
June Alexander, the woman who fell 60 feet due to The Hawk accident in 2004, would have been saved if only someone realized that they just can't put a black wire between two others because it bypasses the critical safety devices. When the wire was removed, it worked fine. The Hawk wasn't used after that.
Martin, the one in charge of maintenance for The Hawk.
As for the North Carolina State Fair revenue in relation to the Vortex accident, Friday, the day following the accident, took a financial dip. The emotional ride the Vortex spawned after the accident kept some locals away.
Today is the last day of the fair. The injured and witnesses to the Vortex accident couldn't be happier about that. It's going to take at least a year, if not more, to reach some form of closure since it felt as if fair goers walked into the "Final Destination" movie series.
What to expect?
Martin, from The Hawk, claimed he did "not jerry-rig" the ride that took the life of the woman who fell 60 feet. Even without fingerprints connecting him to the rigged wire, no witnesses seeing him put the wire in, he was still convicted.
Whether or not Tutterrow can be compared to Martin's past, that remains to be seen. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison will do his best in finding any and all links between the Vortex mishap and those involved.
Further arrests and upcoming lawsuits possible.
Family Attractions, the sub-contractors, do, in fact, have 3 reports of passenger injuries according to Amusement Safety Organization. Research is still in progress. Stay tuned.
Anyone with video of the fair accident is to contact the office of Donnie Harrison, Wake County Sheriff.
We send our good wishes for a healthy recovery to all those injured and to the witnesses for seeing such a horrific accident.
[More: Masstort, The Hawk investigative report (pdf)]
The Hawk, "Woman dies/family sues", http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=266&dat=20050513&id=1dwrAAAAIBAJ&s...
ABC 11 WTVD News, "Ride operator arrested", http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/story?section=news/local&id=9300380