Six Flags Over Texas ride op told police of concerns over restraint in fatal accident

Posted Friday, November 8, 2013 8:46 AM | Contributed by Jason Hammond

A Six Flags Over Texas employee told police that he or she thought the safety restraint was “a little high, or not as tight as it should be” on the Dallas woman who fell to her death from the Texas Giant roller coaster in July, according police documents. That employee, whose name was redacted, went to the roller coaster’s control panel to check the safety indicator light, the interview summary said. After determining the lap bar was secure, the train carrying Rosa Esparza was allowed to leave.

Read more from The Dallas Morning News.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 8:59 AM

Wow, the end of that article is ridiculous, particularly the "incident" where the girl's restraint "spontaneously came open" and she had to ask for help right before the train departed. You can clearly hear the controls operator announcing the restraints were opened, and calling for a re-check.

And the stuff about the sensors not working correctly seems pretty commonplace to me too, but maybe I'm wrong about that.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 9:06 AM

If what the employee says is true about being concerned, I just don't understand what people are thinking. Why would you let the train leave if you thought something was wrong?

I also found it interesting that the family has contradicted the "witnesses" about what Rosa did or didn't say.

To me, posting that video is very misleading and irresponsible.

Last edited by Jason Hammond, Friday, November 8, 2013 9:06 AM
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Friday, November 8, 2013 9:33 AM

Why would you let the train leave if you thought something was wrong?

For the same reason you would let a space shuttle take off when you knew the o-rings were badly damaged.

Last edited by OhioStater, Friday, November 8, 2013 9:34 AM
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Friday, November 8, 2013 9:40 AM

I don't think the political arm wrestling at NASA is an apt analogy to a teenager making a judgement call at a regional amusement park.

It's hard to go with your gut and tell someone that they have to get off the ride (thus pissing them off) when the computer says everything is ok.

As to the sensors supposedly having a sketchy history, I really doubt that a malfunctioning sensor would lead to a false "good to go" reading. Perhaps a false "no go" reading, but not the other way around.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 10:07 AM

Yeah I agree. I give absolutely no fault to the ride operator here. The computer safety system is designed to take away these types of judgement calls from the ride ops. If the safety system said the train was safe, then it should have been safe. Ride ops are trained to basically obey what the computer tells them and react accordingly. Taking away these types of judgement calls is part of what makes rides safer than they were 30 years ago.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 10:30 AM

Don't get me wrong. I don't blame the employee either. When this first transpired, I felt Six Flags was blameless in the situation. Now I wonder, if what this employee says is true, does the park have a conducive enough environment so employees can feel free to express concerns?

Yes the computer said it was good to go. We obviously know, after the fact, it wasn't in this case. Perhaps this employee had some inkling there might be a problem but didn't feel comfortable enough to question a higher authority. I realize this is all speculative. But, to me, it isn't as clear cut as I once thought.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 10:38 AM

Pagoda Gift Shop said:

Taking away these types of judgement calls is part of what makes rides safer than they were 30 years ago.

Putting the decisions in the hands of a computer has most definitely made us safer. And I'm not saying the employee should be able to override a computer's "no-go situation." But, putting complete faith in a computer and not allowing a human to override a computer's "go situation" is potentially what allowed this to happen.

I'd rather be overly cautious than complacent.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 10:53 AM

Seems to me that Bakeman's argument holds a lot of credibility. The type- 1/type-2 error situation is definitely at play. The cost of sending someone down the ramp without a ride when they COULD have ridden safely isn't completely negligible, but it is absurdly low in comparison to the prospect of allowing someone to ride when the restraint wasn't sufficient. I'd rather tell you that your mammogram "looks sketchy" and that we need a follow-up exam (one that can remove false-positives) than to err on the other side and possibly allow a cancer to go unchecked.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 11:26 AM

The video is totally irrelevant. The restraint opened because it was opened intentionally.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 11:42 AM

Moments later, the restraint had moved enough to allow Esparza to fall to the bottom of the car before she was ejected from the ride, according to witnesses.

I'm sorry but I doubt the restraint moved. How can you trust an eyewitness account from someone that was riding a roller coaster? Were these people staring at this woman's restraint the whole time? Or did she get ejected and subsequently draw their attention to her seat, which could have had the restraint close the rest of the way and thus "move." I know I wasn't there and that this is an account from people that were there, but to rely on someone's reconstruction of what happened while that person was more than likely immersed in a thrilling experiencing and looking straight ahead before the woman was ejected doesn't seem like a good proposition.

I still think that this comes down to a poorly designed restraint. The computer said go, yet the woman, with her body proportions, was not properly restrained. No mechanical failure necessary.

Last edited by Bakeman31092, Friday, November 8, 2013 11:49 AM
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Friday, November 8, 2013 3:46 PM

Bakeman31092 said:

I really doubt that a malfunctioning sensor would lead to a false "good to go" reading. Perhaps a false "no go" reading, but not the other way around.

Sensors can fail either way. That's why most places will compare (at least) two sensors for things like train position to make sure that they match.

In a situation like a seat where you couldn't physically fit two sensors, the logic should be written so that the sensor is being checked in both the on and off states to see that it is in fact changing state with each cycle of the bars. Getting a "good to go" signal when the bars are unlocked should shut the ride down the same as a "no go" signal would when they are locked.

Not that that happened here... just sayin'.

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Friday, November 8, 2013 4:00 PM

I don't know how this ride was designed. But, things are usually designed to fail "safe".

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Friday, November 8, 2013 7:15 PM

This is slightly on topic, and I meant to mention it when it happened, but the thread drifted away and I forgot until now.
So a couple/few weeks ago I got an email from Six Flags asking me to complete a survey, which I'm always game for. The first few questions focused on the park close to me (none) and the park I visit most often. (once again...) Then the questionnaire turned to the accident. I dont have the specific questions, (and wish I'd copied it now) but they wanted to know things like if I'd heard of an accident, (yes), where I thought the accident happened and on what ride, how I learned of the accident, what I heard about how it might've happened, what I thought actually happened, did it appear ro me that the park or operators were at fault, did I think it might be the rider's fault, how the media treated it, how this accident affected my confidence in amusement rides, and how it affected my confidence in Six Flags, etc etc. It went on and on and I was made to write out my answers, no multiple choice or anything easy like that.

Anyway, I thought the whole thing was so strange. I guess an obvious motive would be to gauge public opinion and what damage control they might be facing. But it almost seemed like prep for a lawsuit, or something. And why me? (except I subscribe to SFOT's newsletter for some reason)

Did anyone else here recieve such a questionnaire?

Last edited by RCMAC, Friday, November 8, 2013 7:16 PM
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Friday, November 8, 2013 9:06 PM

RCMAC said:

... I guess an obvious motive would be to gauge public opinion and what damage control they might be facing...

Twenty years ago my opinion would have been different.

Today, the smart phone in your pocket has more processing power then some early super computers.

Today, there are an abnormal average of people that are FAT, very OBESE; I was one of them.

It appears to ME, that SF believes it did everything required in the instruction manual. And, that the media is playing this up to be SF fault and their responsibility.

On a cell call, my dad even mentioned the SF death WHILE I was at SFFT (Fiesta Texas) and seemed concerned for my well being since I was at a SF park.

It seems to me the media could be shifting the blame and affecting future visitors to SF parks.

I have not personally seen a photo of the deceased. However, from the descriptions I've read, and the details of the event, I have my own opinion.

I reserve the right to be horribly wrong, I don't have first hand info.

It is my opinion that the restraint design was not well suited to the mass and specific body type of the victim; much like Knott's and Perilous Plunge.

As in the above, I don't believe the restraint failed, yet the body type of the deceased was such that it was just outside of the design parameters of the restraint.

If I get the time and money, I'm going to SFOT to ride it.

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Monday, November 11, 2013 1:33 AM

Jason Hammond said:

Why would you let the train leave if you thought something was wrong?

Most likely the policy was to check with the computer (as they did) and then not question it any further. Giving the computer the ability to make go/no go decisions allows you to have cheap, mindless drones as operators. They likely knew (or had been told by higher ups) that it wasn't their job to question the computer.

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Monday, November 11, 2013 8:25 AM

It also makes no sense to have the operator question the computer. The data set (up to the point of the accident) was 1,000,000+ safe rides: 0 unsafe rides. Aside from the restraint being completely open, how is anyone, let alone a minimum wage worker to know what is an isn't a safe position?

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Monday, November 11, 2013 8:37 AM

Most of us here have been saying if a rider doesn't feel safe, they shouldn't ride. Shouldn't the same hold true for the ride operators? If they think something is wrong, regardless of what the computer says, don't let the train go.

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Monday, November 11, 2013 9:47 PM

I'm not sure it's that simple. They're under a huge amount of pressure to dispatch trains quickly and a huge amount of pressure from the guest to let them ride the ride. You could still reduce my data set to the 5,000 rides (up to the accident) where the rider was anxious and the operator thought maybe something was wrong and dispatched the train and the results are 5,000 safe, 0 unsafe.

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Monday, November 11, 2013 10:05 PM

The problem with the whole "if you don't feel it's safe, don't let them ride" thing is:

Let's say an extremely obese woman gets on the ride. The bar locks, the computer says it's safe. You question it, so you double check the bar, it's locked, the computer says safe to dispatch. You then tell the woman she can't ride. There will probably be a scene, maybe the news gets called, maybe a lawsuit... you're discriminating against her because of her weight. The ride said I was safe and they wouldn't let me go...

Add to that, she's probably right. As Andy said, 99.999999% of the time if the computer says it's safe, it really is.

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