Five people injured on ride at North Carolina State Fair

Posted | Contributed by bjames

Five people were taken to WakeMed hospital in Raleigh Thursday night after an accident involving the Vortex ride on the lower midway at the North Carolina State Fair. Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison told reporters at a news briefing late Thursday night that preliminary information he received indicates at least two people suffered critical injuries. The sheriff says the ride started while it was being unloaded.

Read more from WRAL/Raleigh.

Here's a good vid of this ride when it played the Ohio State Fair in July, posted to YouTube by Sean Flaharty.

We just came from a visit to the NC State Fair (Mmmmmm, biscuits...) and saw this ride in action again. When it played Ohio I watched them unrack and set up and had several conversations with the crew. Operation was delayed to a few days after opening due to a needed replacement part. A guy who I assumed was the lead on the ride told me this particular model was one of a kind, was imported from France and had been on the road nineteen years.

I believe this was a booked-on piece, as it was in Ohio, and this is the first time it's played fairs in North America. NC fair didn't list it as a "new" ride but it was the first time it's played there. (The new ride, the re-make of the Rampage, was listed but it was a no-show for some reason.)

As a fan of flat rides and carnival midways, accidents like this are always upsetting to me. I'm not sure which will be worse, if the cause is determined to be mechanical malfunction or operator error. I'd be willing to bet, though, that we've seen the last of this unique ride.

wow, at first it sounded like the ride started and people were knocked over/hit by the moving tubs. That was consistent with one of the injured being an operator.

However, later eyewitness reports (which are always suspect) indicate that the ride was in full cycle and upside down with people falling out. Now I'm confused.

Mac, was this flat at the Ohio State Fair last year? I don't remember it, if it was.

My author website:

No sir, it showed up for the first time this year, 2013. I'm afraid you missed it. Well, so did I, I guess. I enjoyed watching it, but passed on a ride both here and in NC.

rollergator's avatar

CreditWh0re said:

However, later eyewitness reports (which are always suspect) indicate that the ride was in full cycle and upside down with people falling out. Now I'm confused.

I had heard this version (ride in mid-cycle, people upside-down) this morning on the way in to work. Now I'm thinking it was more of an accidental start-up at the end of the cycle while people were leaving.

And that makes sense to me. Notice on the video that there's two restraints on the riders, one over the shoulder harness that locks and a silver bar that goes across all riders that locks independently. I watched the ride ops climb into the tubs and make sure each restraint was closed over the passengers, double checking each time. The likelihood of everything popping open like that to spill riders seems small, but that's my educated guess.

What I also noticed, and this happens a lot at carnivals, is the operators would close in on the ride vehicles while the ride was coming to a stop. I guess the faster they move the higher capacity they achieve. More riders = more tickets = more money. So if a ride op was injured, the accidental start up while unloading makes sense. Perhaps riders were still in or near their seats and were knocked down and dragged under when it started again. Safety sense dictates that a ride should come to a complete stop and the control board be locked before anyone approaches the platform to release riders, but who knows what was going on there, really?

It seems like carnies take a lot of chances with the rides they operate. It's almost like a bravery thing as part of the show, or perhaps for each other. For example, countless times I've seen them "surf" the side running boards on Music Express type rides, checking lap bars while the ride starts in motion then jumping off to their spots as the ride gets faster. A cool skill, I suppose, but rather foolish as well. We'd never see that practice at amusement or theme parks, but I guess that's the difference between them and the carnival midway.

Dave Althoff Jr.'s old adage rings true here: Respect rides. They do not respect you.

Last edited by RCMAC,

The media is now reporting that the ride operator has been arrested for "tampering with" the ride's safety system. Interesting.

Far be it from me to speculate, but it seems that a picture is emerging. Oddly enough, when the incident happened, I was attending a meeting of amusement ride experts, so naturally there was a fair amount of conversation about this incident.

What I knew as of yesterday (Friday) was that the ride had started unexpectedly. What is not clear is why the operator did not frob the E-stop when motion started, or even dump the power completely (portable rides are required by Article 525 of NFPA 70 (better known as the National Electric Code) to have a power disconnecting means accessible to and within 6' of the operator). My suspicion is that the operator might have been away from the controls at the time of the incident, that's the only reason I can think of that the ride didn't stop.
My thought is that some interlock in the ride safety system had become a nuisance, probably combined with a poorly defined failure point. Unable to fix an intermittent failure, somebody jumpered a switch to keep the ride running.

My guess is that the jumpered control wasn't just the failed switch, and resulted in the ride doing something unexpected. I am thinking that this may become a textbook example of Why You Don't Do That™.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

LostKause's avatar

Something like that happened to a friend of mine when he was operating Witches Wheel at Cedar Point. He said that while he was away from the controls, unlocking the cages, the ride started up for no reason. Riders who were unlocked quickly got out of the way, and riders still on the ride rode around and around until he could get to the E-Stop. The ride was shut down and inspected.

He said that he had the keys with him while he was away from the controls. He was running the ride alone when this incident occurred. That is his story anyways.

This was over a decade ago.


"CoasterBuzz - It feels like home" :)

I have had similar experiences with a control system. Fortunately it did not phantom start the ride, but would randomly stop it. The location was close to a major Naval installation, and it was determined by the control systems maker that the problem was caused by "stray" radio signals from the base, requiring the the control to be placed in a shielded case. After that no more problems.

According to an article I just read on yahoo, the ride operator is now being charged criminally with 3 counts of assault. Apparently, as some had speculated here, they found the ride had been tampered with and this compromised a critical safety component. This is why I will never go on a traveling fair ride.

Iceman3, you may want to reconsider your stance. This can be identified as an isolated incident. Furthermore, the last incident I can remember in which a ride safety system was tampered with resulting in an injury to a customer (a fatal accident, in fact) was on a permanent installation.

If you are worried about someone tampering with a ride, it really is not a common problem, but it is just as likely to happen in a park as on a carnival. On the other hand, in a carnival, the ride operators are less likely to rely on the fails safe systems in the first place.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

rollergator's avatar

Dave - I assume you're referring to the Pigeon Forge "Hawk" incident...?

Oh dear. So the ride was up in the air. Awful.

And now it seems there's been another accident at the NC State Fair, this time a worker was injured while dismantling a ride when a piece of the ride came loose and fell on him. The ride was one of those large windmill type rides with, oddly enough, the name Vortex.

Last edited by RCMAC,

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