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Mishap Cuffs Roller Coaster

(July 19, 1999) As rescuers worked to free them from a derailed roller-coaster car dangling 35 feet above the ground in, Rachel and Robin waited quietly, desperate not to move a muscle.

The teen-agers were strapped into seats of the Orient Express, the signature roller coaster of the Worlds of Fun amusement park, in Kansas City, Mo., and for two hours Saturday night, they looked straight up at the cars above them.

"They were so quiet; I think they were in shock more than anything," Fire Department Battalion Chief Tommy Walker told The Kansas City Star. "There wasn't any screaming, crying or hysterics."

The cause of the derailment appeared to be mechanical, but it was unclear whether the track or the train was defective, Daniel Keller, vice president and general manager of the amusement park, said Sunday.

Thirteen people on the train, including the teen-agers, were taken to area hospitals and released early Sunday without serious injuries. Park officials and Kansas City police declined to release their names.

The last two cars of the seven-car Orient Express train derailed about 9:30 p.m. Saturday just as the train was decelerating from its trip and approaching the loading platform.

"It was this big jerk and a loud squeal," said Mary Kary Jones, who said she was in one of the cars. "It's a feeling that you never want to feel."

Fourteen passengers in the front five cars of the train were able to walk to safety, but the sixth car, which was empty, was off the track.

Rachel and Robin were dangling below it in the seventh car. Two people in that car either fell from the car or jumped to the hillside below; accounts by the Fire Department and park officials differ.

The teens waited in the forward seats of the last car as firefighters worked for two hours to carefully hook steel cables to the undercarriage of the train and secure it to the track.

Any movement could have caused the 2,500-pound cars to sway and further strain the tenuous coupling, firefighters said.

Once the cables were secured, Firefighter Rick Carper climbed a 50-foot ladder, the top of it resting against the track. Capt. Todd Ackerson descended on a rope about 15 feet from the track to the girls.

Rescuers placed safety harnesses attached to ropes around the girls, then released the ride's U-shaped harnesses that fit over the girls' shoulders.

Carper then carefully led them down the fully extended ladder, which bowed with the weight.

Keller said the 19-year-old Orient Express, which can reach speeds of 65 mph, has had an excellent safety record. He said he was unaware of any other derailments involving similar roller coasters.

The Orient Express had another accident in June 1987 when one of its trains struck another, injuring nine people and leaving some passengers stranded for hours.

"I can assure you, all of us at Worlds of Fun are saddened by this accident," Keller said. "All our rides re inspected daily to ensure the safety of our guests. The Orient Express trains, machinery and track had routinely been inspected Saturday."

Neither the Orient Express nor any other ride at Worlds of Fun is inspected by any governmental agency. Missouri is one of 12 states that have no inspection regulations for permanent amusement parks.