Sparks fly on The Wheel in Orlando when it loses power, three hours pass evacuating guests

Posted | Contributed by BrettV

The Wheel at ICON Park in Orlando lost power on New Year's Eve. Video shows sparks flying on the ride, which was evacuated over the course of three hours.

Read more and see video from WESH/Orlando.

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Jeff's avatar

There are so many concerning things about this. The first is that something apparently exploded on the ride and spewed sparks all over the place. The second is that there was not apparently some kind of backup power, or if there was, it failed. The third is that they had to have some guests climb out the hatch instead of getting the doors open when at ground level. That's an awful lot of failures.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

With the best will in the world you will occasionally see high-voltage electrical equipment fail in spectacular fashion; I've personally seen a UPS go supernova in a similar manner to this video.

That said, it's really hard to understand why something with that type of failure mode would be installed within the structure of a ride. If it was a design flaw by the manufacturer, then I daresay anything else they've made will be closed pending a redesign.

If it proves to be something Icon Park did, then I'd say it'll be game over for them.


Vater's avatar

Jeff:

There are so many concerning things about this.

The fourth is that this is at the same park whose self-modified drop ride killed a person less than 10 months ago.

Jeff's avatar

I think there's a little subtlety in that though, because the tower was operated by a separate company.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Jeff:
The first is that something apparently exploded on the ride and spewed sparks all over the place. The second is that there was not apparently some kind of backup power, or if there was, it failed. The third is that they had to have some guests climb out the hatch instead of getting the doors open when at ground level. That's an awful lot of failures.

I have to wonder if all of these are truly independent failures or if some of this was brought on in the name of safety. The sparks seem to be coming from someplace on the ride above a car on the ride. I do not know enough about the ride structure or design, but I've seen something as simple as a downed electrical wire put on such a show.

If we move to the thought that this was maybe a short in a "junction box" or a wire breaking loose causing the sparks, it is possible that the system shutdown because of a "breaker" tripping. Not knowing the root cause of the problem, bringing a backup generator online may not have been safe, and thus, the extra safety of leaving the power off and manually opening the doors may not have been entirely necessary but may have been out of caution. Now, the fact that the doors could not be manually opened from the outside - that does sound like a design limitation to me.

Vater's avatar

Wasn't aware it was a separate operator. Still not a particularly great look for the park.

Raven-Phile's avatar

My instincts on these things are generally correct. Ferris wheels and long distance gondolas.

Death Buckets, all of them.

I've never been more terrified than riding the swinging gondolas on Mickey's Fun Wheel at DCA. I had never thought of ferris wheels as dangerous until then.

Vater's avatar

I rode the moving gondolas on the Wonder Wheel at Coney and thought it was amazing. Unnerving, yes, but never felt in danger.

Raven-Phile's avatar

Yeah, the moving Ferris wheels are kind of an exception, to me, but they still are a bit of a tight space in the gondola and that can be a bit uncomfortable

OhioStater's avatar

And here I thought Cedar Point was the only place that had a Ferris wheel where sparks fly...


Promoter of fog.

kpjb's avatar

Jeff:

The first is that something apparently exploded on the ride and spewed sparks all over the place. The second is that there was not apparently some kind of backup power, or if there was, it failed. The third is that they had to have some guests climb out the hatch instead of getting the doors open when at ground level.

Without knowing anything about this ride, I can offer a hypothesis:

  1. Something slowly rubbed through wiring, causing the sparks to fly. Alternately, since there's power in the gondolas there must be some sort of ring/finger system to power them. Something jammed and shorted out.
  2. You can see in the video that once power is out and the sparks stop, there is still a spot that is glowing above one of the gondolas. Wires have now melted together from the heat. There is a backup power source, but if there are physically melted wires you cannot put power to them or it will either trip immediately or start sparking again, and if it's part of a control system you may end up doing more damage. The safest thing to do in this situation is rotate the wheel manually. That's a fairly easy (but long) process, as long as it's balanced correctly.
  3. Were the guests that had to climb out in the gondolas near the sparks? It's possible that there's a battery backup or other release method that simply wouldn't work on the damaged gondolas.


Hi

Jeff's avatar

A backup to turn the wheel would presumably not have anything to do with power on the wheel itself for lights.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

kpjb's avatar

True, but I wasn't thinking of the drive motors that turn the wheel, more about control voltage and safety wiring going through the gondolas mixed with HVAC and lighting. There are probably multiple voltages fed from multiple sources that could have fused together, which can create a big mess. If they can't get the safety circuits to work then regardless of power source they may not be able to get it to go.


Hi

Reading the title of this thread I'm suddenly reminded of a (local?) musical group that got their "Hat Song" included on WCBE-FM's "Where Are My Headphones Volume 2" fund raising CD back in 1994. The group? Sparks from the Wheel, of course. That might even be one of the sessions I ran the board for... Anyway...ancient history.

Another issue here is the involvement of the fire department. Fire departments often have a relatively myopic view of what is important in situations like this: extinguish the fire, evacuate the people. Never mind that it's quite possible that the people are perfectly safe right where they are. So extinguish the fire, and then use the pre-existing evacuation plan for rotating the wheel without normal power to evacuate the riders. That may be a slow process, but it may also be safer than charging in with an aerial platform.

But then this also comes down to that pre-existing evacuation plan (required, incidentally, by ASTM F770-22:6.2) and whatever coordination ICON park had previously done with the Orange County emergency services (see ASTM F770-22:6.2.1.5 "[The owner/operator shall consider:] Notification and cooperation with the outside agencies and entities intended to participate in an evacuation;"). In the absence of such prior coordination, the fire department will charge into the scene, assume control, and make up a new procedure as they go along.

Earlier, Vater noted--

I rode the moving gondolas on the Wonder Wheel at Coney and thought it was amazing. Unnerving, yes, but never felt in danger.

I've ridden both the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, and whatever Disney calls their version at California Adventure. While the Disney wheel has a more conventional and more comfortable seating arrangement, what I noticed is that while the Wonder Wheel is driven by a ring gear around the outside of the wheel, and the swinging cars are rolling on cast iron flanged wheel axles riding on angle-iron track, the Disney wheel has a more conventional friction rim drive, and the cars have plastic roller-coaster wheels riding on tubular steel tracks. Considering all that, the Wonder Wheel gives a much smoother and noticeably quieter ride. My guess is that it has more to do with Deno's attention to his ancient ride, given that on the face of it the Waagner-Biro/Intamin* design of the Disney wheel appears on the face of it to be a superior, updated design.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

* I'm assuming, but I think it's a good guess.
--DCAjr

Last edited by RideMan,

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____
/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /X\ /XXXXX
_/XXXXXXX\__/XXXXX\/XXXXXXXX\_/XXX\_/XXXXXXX\__/XXX\_/XXX\_/\_/XXXXXX

It’s an excellent guess.
https://www.intamin.com/product/coaster-wheel/
(Not to be confused with actual coaster wheels…)

I’m not afraid of Ferris Wheels in general, but I’ve met people with downright unmanageable phobias. Sometimes the scariest ones are the open seat Eli wheels. Even a slight rock to those chairs can induce momentary panic.
I’ve ridden both “coaster wheels” in the US and I’ll have to admit the first time the car cut loose I grabbed onto something close. But it always makes me wonder why they don’t rotate just a tish faster. It would certainly make it even more thrilling.
Lastly, just last spring I rode Orlando’s ride for the first time. (When did they stop calling it Orlando Eye? Or am I imagining that?) I went with a friend who’s local and we really enjoyed it. It was night time, we had the pod to ourselves (thanks, Covid!), and the view was spectacular. It was so calm it felt like nothing at all.
Now this.
I know things happen but it sure seems like that little block of fun has more than its share of woes. I hope this incident, unlike the other, has no lasting impact. The Cheesecake Factory is not enough to make me pull over.

Jeff's avatar

I live here and I didn't know they changed the name, but they've changed it at least four times. I don't know why. It's not like any name is going to confuse it with another gigantic ferris wheel in Orlando.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

but I’ve met people with downright unmanageable phobias. Sometimes the scariest ones are the open seat Eli wheels. Even a slight rock to those chairs can induce momentary panic.

Totally agreed on this. I have only ridden DCA's coaster wheel, and while the first roll down freaked me out a bit, I wasn't truly terrified. Put me on an Eli Wheel that runs at a pretty good clip and I will be leaving hand imprints on the safety bar. I remember riding one at Geneva-On-The-Lake's now-defunct Erieview Park and was never so glad a ride was over when it ended. Our car was swinging WAY back as it circled over the top and I swore we were going to fall out. Being the only ones on that day, we got an extra-long ride cycle too. Truly terrifying, and a reason why I don't go on Eli Wheels of any kind anymore.

Of course, there's always the Chance/Allen Herschell Sky Wheel too. I seem to recall riding Cedar Point's as a kid and to a 6 year old, it was horrifying. Due to not having seen one in ages, I haven't been on one since, but I'd like to perhaps try again at my advanced age and see if it was as scary as I remember.

Vater's avatar

Yep, the mention of the Eli wheels reminded me of my one ride eons ago on a Skywheel. That was absolutely the most scared I'd ever been on a Ferris wheel-type ride. Still enjoyed it though.

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