- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

A stalled roller coaster that left 24 persons dangling from its suspended cars for more than two hours Tuesday had shifted into safety mode when computerized sensors discovered a hazard on the track, a park spokeswoman says.

At least 10 inspectors yesterday scoured the ride, called “Two Face: The Flip Side,” at Six Flags America in Largo to determine what set off the sensors. The ride remained closed indefinitely yesterday.

“The ride acted exactly as it was supposed to,” said Six Flags spokeswoman Karin Korpowski. “It shut down for safety reasons.”

She did not know when the roller coaster would reopen. Mrs. Korpowski said a crew of about 150 people in maintenance engineering and operations inspect all rides in the park each day.

The Maryland Division of Labor and Industry inspects rides at Six Flags once a year and after any injury or fatality. Two state inspectors were on the team examining the roller coaster yesterday.

Maryland law requires that daily inspections be performed by “an owner or operator experienced in the proper assembly and operation” of a ride. State law also requires that daily maintenance be performed in 10 general areas, including electrical systems, passenger-safety devices, bolts and hydraulic systems.

Donnie Mills, general manager of Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., said much of the same rigorous inspection occurs there, and that automatic shutdowns are a part of the business.

“When these things happen, the human reaction is to say that something is wrong,” Mr. Mills said. “But really, something is right. That’s what these safety systems are designed to do.”

Joel Cliff, a spokesman for the Alexandria-based International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, said lengthy shutdowns like Tuesday’s are rare.

“You just don’t see it,” Mr. Cliff said. “You’ve got to keep it in perspective in terms of how many rides are given.”

Mr. Cliff said his association estimates more than 1.5 billion rides are provided in the amusement park industry each year.

No one was hurt during Tuesday’s shutdown, but several riders complained they were afraid and not informed about what was happening. The Prince George’s County fire department responded and was prepared to removed the riders, but operators were able to return the train to its station.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which has no regulatory power over amusement park rides but tracks serious injuries and fatalities, said injuries at permanently fixed parks rose from 3,720 in 1996 to 7,260 in 1999. It said 6,704 injuries were reported at fixed parks in 2001, the last year for which statistics were available.

The amusement park association’s Web site (www.iaapa.org) says the “substantial majority of ride-related injuries are due to horseplay or other patron negligence, rather than the condition or operation of a ride.”

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