June 27th ─ a 14-year-old teenage girl escaped serious injuries when she fell from a ride Saturday night at The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Queensbury, about 55 miles north of Albany, New York. The teenage girl, from Greenwood, Delaware, was on the park’s Sky Ride, a gondola-style attraction that circles the park from about 25 feet above. The ride was stopped by an operator after receiving word of a rider in distress. The fall and rescue was recorded on video by a bystander, the footage shows the teenage girl hanging by her hands screaming as several onlookers shout in alarm. A crowd of good Samaritans forms below her, reaching up as they call for her to let go. The girl’s little brother sits next to her in the two-person gondola, crying frantically, saying he can’t hold on much longer. As she lets go, she hits a tree limb on the way down, and then is caught by the crowd. The video footage shows other bystanders cheering after the girl was caught and then the girl, limp and pale, being carried away to a golf cart where employees treated the girl before emergency crews could take her to a local hospital.
The girl was taken to a local hospital and then flown by helicopter to Albany Medical Center. She was reported in stable condition with no serious injuries, according to police officials. A 47-year old man was also taken to a local hospital for a back injury he sustained from attempting to catch the girl. That man was later identified by news outlets as Matthew Howard Sr., a contractor from Schenectady, New York. Howard and his 21-year old daughter, Leeann Winchell, were just leaving the amusement park with their family when they heard someone screaming for help. Howards recalls his encounter saying, “I couldn't let that little girl die, no one wants to put himself underneath a body like that, but I couldn't stand by and watch. I said: 'It's OK! It's OK to let go, I'll catch you, honey, and she fell from the pod”.
Winchell, who is studying to be a nurse, said she visited the girl the next day at the hospital and she was in good spirits. "I'm just glad we could be there to help, we were in the right place at the right time”, said Winchell.
Concerns were raised that park employees took too long to stop the ride and render aid to the teenage girl. “There were a lot of people yelling and surprised as I was that there wasn’t something that could be done faster to help,” said Loren Lent, who was visiting the park with his family.
Lent was also alarmed that after being caught, the girl had to be carried almost 30 feet to the waiting golf cart to get medical attention. “If there’s possibly neck or back trauma, you want to immobilize the person,” Lent added.
Investigators and park staff have inspected the ride and found that everything was in proper and working order. All safety equipment was intact and operational at the time of the incident, according to the sheriff’s office. Rebecca Wood, a spokeswoman for Six Flags, spoke to the press in an email stating that the New York State Department of Labor has cleared the ride for operation as of Sunday morning. She continued, “However, out of an abundance of caution, the ride will remain closed while we conduct a thorough internal review”.
According to a 2016 report by the National Safety Council for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), the chances of being seriously injured at an amusement park in the United States are one in 16 million. More than 1,000 injuries have been logged each year since 2003, according to the IAAPA report. Those incidents have included tragic accidents such as one that was covered by national news where a roller coaster launch cable had snapped and fatally struck a 12-year-old boy at Knott’s Berry Farm in California. Two safety consultants, who are working on the investigation, said these types of gondola rides usually have good safety records, but when something does go wrong that it's usually because of some fault on the rider’s part.
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