Theme park employees' errors killed a six-year-old girl on a Colorado drop ride earlier this month, according to a state investigation.
Operators running the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park on September 5 failed to notice that six-year-old Wongel Estifanos was not buckled into her seat on the ride, then ignored a system warning. Operators overrode the warning and dispatched the ride, from which the girl fell to her death.
"The fatal accident was the result of multiple operator errors, specifically failure to ensure proper utilization of the passenger restraint system (seatbelts), and a lack of understanding and resolution of the Human Machine Interface (HMI) screen error conditions on the control panel," the report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Division of Oil and Public Safety said.
The 110-foot Haunted Mine Drop is a unique drop ride that is built underground in a mine shaft. The ride has remained closed since the incident.
An attorney for the girl's family announced plans to sue the park.
"Wongel's parents are determined to do everything in their power to make sure that no one ever dies this way again. As part of this mission they are asking witnesses to come forward, including folks who experienced problems with the Haunted Mine Drop before Wongel was killed on it," the attorney said in a statement released to the press.
The park issued its own statement following the release of the state investigation.
The owners, management and entire Glenwood Caverns family are heart-broken by the tragic accident that occurred here on September 5. There is no way we can imagine the pain of loss that the Estifanos family and their friends are experiencing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.
Safety is, and always has been, our top priority. Since opening our first ride just over 15 years ago, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has delivered more than 10 million safe and enjoyable rides.
We have been working closely with Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety and independent safety experts to review this incident. Earlier today, we received the state’s final report and will review it carefully for recommendations.
More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply sorry we are for their loss and how committed we are to making sure it never happens again.
The incident provides yet another reminder that no matter how much an attraction spends on creative design and ride systems - even with redundant safety procedures, it's ultimately up to operators to ensure that guests experience an attraction safely.
I don't have any first-hand knowledge of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park's operations, as I have not visited the park. But I have worked as a ride operator elsewhere and have spoken with countless ride operators over the years. An incident such as this is the worst nightmare imaginable for everyone involved: the girl's family, the operators who made these mistakes and now have to live with that, and the park managers that failed to put a properly trained and experienced ops team on that load platform.
Soapbox time. The theme park industry has a moral, legal, and economic obligation to promote ops as more than a minimum wage, unskilled job. Good operators do not just save guests time and parks money - they save lives. But operators cannot do that without proper training and enough supervised time on the job to develop the experience that is vital to successful attraction operation. Yet operators won't stay on the job long enough to develop that experience unless parks provide the pay, benefits, and support that employees need to make ends meet and then to feel valued and respected.
The theme park industry loves to talk about making dreams come true. But what happened at Glenwood Caverns shows that this industry has the power to make nightmares come true, too. And that should keep a lot of managers throughout this industry up tonight.
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