In the quest for fun, thrills, and excitement, millions of people around the world visit various amusement parks and fairs to go on various rides. While minimal, there is still an element of dangers to some of these attractions. Whether it be from a structural aspect of the ride itself or error from a human operator, sometimes things go wrong with tragic results. Fortunately, this story doesn’t involve tragedy, but it does show what could’ve happened, as a drop tower ride started to ascend without everyone fully secured.
The premise of a drop tower is fairly simple. Passengers are placed in secured harnesses attached to an ascending platform. The platform then rises quite high into the air, stops, and then plummets back to the ground. A deceleration and braking system slows the ride down before it hits the ground, allowing the riders to experience the thrill of a controlled free fall without injury. Of course, avoiding injury is dependent upon everything working as it should, which may not have been happening on the evening of Friday, November 4th, 2022.
In a video recorded by a family member, 9-year-old Isabella Carmichael is seen preparing to ascend a drop tower at the Greater Gulf State Fair in Alabama. What’s not seen is any staff members double checking to make sure her safety buckle is on. Isabella seems to realize something is wrong before the ride begins, and calls out to her mom. She knows no one has secured her buckle, and that knowledge turns to screaming for help as the ride begins. From off camera, you can hear Isabella’s mother screaming as well to stop the ride.
The ride does stop, leaving the passengers suspended in the air. According to Josh Woods, executive director of the fair, this buckle was “a secondary safety device” while the primary safety device remained functional. Woods doesn’t say whatever the primary device was, though. He does note there’s a safety zone for this particular carnival ride, and that the ride operators are always checking to make sure everything is secure, even as the platform is ascending.
Some may ask why the lift took off at all if the buckle wasn’t in place. Take for example the tragic death of Tyre Sampson at ICON Park earlier this year. Green lights are supposed to be appear on the operator board, indicating that each rider is secure before the ride is allowed to take-off. An investigation into that carnival ride showed certain sensors had been adjusted, which was not in accordance with the safety protocols. Tyre was also a very large kid, too large for the safety guidelines of the ride, though the adjusted sensors still detected his harness as being secure. Thus, everything appeared “green” when they should not have been and the ride that took Tyre’s life was able to ascend.
This particular drop tower at the Greater Gulf State Fair is not the same as the one at ICON, and may have different safety measures. We reached out to the ride owner, North American Midway Entertainment, to establish what the primary safety device was that Josh Woods was referring to and whether or not the ride had any failsafe sensors.
According to an email we received from them, the Mega Drop does indeed have a fail safe. The harnesses themselves are considered the primary safety device that Woods was talking about. In order for the ride to ascend at all, that harness must be secured and locked in place. The buckle is an additional device that does not need to be secured for the ride to begin, though obviously it’s recommended.
All in all, Woods was correct in that the device was operating as intended and the harness itself was locked in place, which is why the ride could ascend as high as it did. However, the buckle SHOULD have been detected before the ride took off, as you can’t be too safe when it comes to people’s lives. At least in the case of Isabella Carmichael a potential tragedy was averted. That look of terror on her face though should serve as a reminder of why all safety protocols should be followed to the letter.