6-Year-Old Girl Never Strapped Into Seat Before Falling To Her Death On Amusement Park Ride
According to a state investigation, a 6-year-old girl who died earlier this month on a ride at a Colorado amusement park was never strapped into her seat. Two operators failed to notice even after a monitor alerted them to a seatbelt safety violation – before the ride plummeted 110 feet.
Wongel Estifanos was visiting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park with her family on Sept. 5 when she rode the Haunted Mine Drop attraction, a free-fall descent down a pitch-black shaft.
In a report published Friday, inspectors with the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety found that "several operator mistakes" and "inadequate training" led to Wongel's death after examining video footage and operational manuals. She sat in an empty seat on top of two already secured seat belts when she boarded the ride.
Per the investigation, the child was only holding the tail of one seatbelt over her lap, but when the ride operator checked her seat, he "did not detect that the seatbelts were not positioned across her lap."
On Wongel's seat, an error was detected by the ride's control panel, indicating that the belt had not been entirely freed after the previous cycle, as reported. The operator returned "several times" to check and fasten the seatbelt without success but "did not accept the mistake since they were sure the restraint had been cycled," according to the report.
A second ride operator then manually released the seatbelts, clearing the error on the ride's control system, the report said, "without unloading passengers to investigate what the problem was." This judgment did not address the issue at hand that Wongel was not wearing her seatbelts but did show that the operator "lacked a full knowledge" of the control system's safety indications, the report said.
The investigation says the second operator also checked the girl's seatbelts but "did not detect that none of the seatbelts were positioned over her lap."
The second operator was then able to dispatch the ride without encountering any errors on the control panel.
"Because Ms. Estifanos was not restrained in the seat, she became separated from her seat and fell to the bottom of the [Haunted Mine Drop] shaft, resulting in her death," the report stated.
Operators were not trained to unbuckle all passengers' seatbelts after each trip, even though it was a standard practice that the company's first operator used "inconsistently" in the past.
Because "riders cannot be expected to know or properly execute safety protocols for this trip," the investigation said, the operators must fasten the seatbelts of each of the six passengers and ensure the restraints are over their laps. According to the report, both operators violated these protocols.
Additionally, the study found that operators' training "did not seem to highlight the ride's inherent hazards" and that the manufacturer's operating manual "does not educate operators on how to handle mistakes appropriately."
The Haunted Mine Drop is now closed, and the amusement park said that plans for the attraction are "undetermined."
Dan Caplis, an attorney representing the Estifanos family, said that Wongel's parents had received the complaint and urged anybody who has "had problems" with the Haunted Mine Drop to come forward.