Spine-Tingling Rides?

Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and Brian Douglas Wells
AP Photo
As a mammoth yellow carnival ride, complete with twin Ferris Wheels, spins in front of Mary Wiltse, her eyes follow warily.

“I was just wondering if the little chairs will fall off,” said Wiltse, visiting the Fowlerville Fair with her two children. “Just being a mother, you worry about it. But it's kind of like flying an airplane. There's only one-in-a-million odds that you'd get hurt.”

In fact, the odds are more like one in 22 million, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. But accidents are not uncommon.

On Friday, one roller coaster rear-ended another in a New Hampshire amusement park, causing minor injuries to five people. And on Monday at Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park near Muskegon, a sideways spinning ride called "The Chaos" fell from its spindle.

In that case, 31 riders were treated or examined at hospitals; all but two had been released by Tuesday. Some riders were trapped at the bottom of the ride for up to five hours.

After the malfunction, the park's parent company, Cedar Fair LP, closed Chaos rides at its parks in Sandusky, Ohio, and Shakopee, Minnesota. Chance Rides Inc., the ride's manufacturer, said it has contacted all 52 Chaos owners to tell them what happened.

From 1987 to 1999, there were 49 documented fatalities at the nation's amusement parks, according to the latest data from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.

A total of 10,400 visitors were injured in 1999, an increase from the 6,650 injured in 1996, the commission reported. More than 300 million people visit amusement parks each year, the industry says.

Inspectors and amusement park owners say the main reason riders get hurt is because they act irresponsibly. Rider behavior was at fault in all but one of the 47 injuries reported last year in Michigan.

“I'm not going to say it's a perfect world. But there's no one in this industry who wakes up and says, 'How many people can I hurt today?”' said inspector Lewis Merz, who has been inspecting rides since 1978.

Wayne Pierce, a Maryland attorney who helps states develop amusement park safety standards, says Michigan's inspection program is among the best, along with those in Florida, Maryland and Ohio.

Michigan is one of 25 states in which government employees inspect rides, Pierce said. Some states, including Texas, Minnesota and Oregon, have private insurance companies inspect their rides. Pennsylvania certifies private inspectors, while Virginia has county building inspectors perform the task.

Eight states don't have any sort of inspection program, according to Ken Giles of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Donnie Reid, a manager with Michigan-based Wade Shows Inc., says he has no problem with inspection programs. Wade Shows usually pays around $50 per ride for Michigan's annual inspections.

“I think it's very healthy for our business,” says Reid, who was managing 27 rides and 60 emloyees at the Fowlerville Fair.

But others say the inspections can be overbearing.

“Something might be wrong with it that won't make that much of a difference and they'll make us shut it down,” says Tom Trombly, who ran a space ship ride at a recent carnival in Bay City.

Written By DEE-ANN DURBIN © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed