6-year-old girl never strapped into her seat before fatal amusement park ride: report

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The 6-year-old girl who died on a ride through a Colorado amusement park earlier this month was never strapped to her seat – and two operators failed to notice even after an instructor picked them up alerted to a seat belt safety problem – before the ride. plunged 110 feet, according to a state investigation.

Wongel Estifanos was visiting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, located atop Iron Mountain in Glenwood Springs, with her family on September 5 when she participated in the Haunted Mine Drop attraction, a free fall into a black well.

After reviewing CCTV and operating manuals, investigators from the Colorado Division of Petroleum and Public Safety determined that when Wongel got into the ride, she sat in a previously unoccupied seat above two seat belts already locked, and that “several operator errors” and “inadequate training” contributed to the fatal crash, according to a report released Friday.

The girl was only holding the tail of a seat belt in her lap, but when checking her seat, an amusement ride operator “did not notice that the seat belts were not positioned on her lap “, according to the report.

The ride’s control panel alerted the operator to an error with one of the seat belts on Wongel’s seat, indicating that that seat belt had not been properly unlocked after the previous ride cycle, according to The report. The operator returned “several times” to check the seat belt and fasten it to no avail, but “did not believe the error as he was convinced the restraint had been cycled,” the report said.

A second ride operator then unlocked the seat belts using a manual switch, clearing the error on the ride’s control system, “without unloading the passengers to determine what the problem was,” the report said. . The move did not resolve the issue – that Wongel was not wearing seat belts – and demonstrated that the operator “did not have a full understanding” of the control system’s safety indicators, according to the report.

The second operator also checked the girl’s seat belts but “did not notice that none of the seat belts were positioned on her lap,” according to the report.

Without error on the control panel, the second operator was then able to send the trip.

“Because Ms. Estifanos was not restrained in the seat, she separated from her seat and fell to the bottom of the [Haunted Mine Drop] tree, resulting in his death, ”the report says.

Operators were not formally trained to unbuckle all seat belts after each trip, although this is common practice and the first operator has performed “inconsistently” on previous trips, according to the report.

Operators are expected to buckle the seat belts of each of the six passengers on the trip and confirm that the restraints are on their knees, per the manufacturer’s user manual, because “you can’t expect them to be. passengers know or correctly perform the safety procedures for this journey, ”the report stated. The two operators did not follow these procedures, according to the report.

The report also determined that operator training “does not appear to focus on the risks inherent in the journey” and that the manufacturer’s user manual “does not tell operators how to properly correct errors.”

The haunted mine drop is currently closed and future plans for the ride are “undetermined,” the amusement park said.

“Safety is, and always has been, our top priority,” Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park founder Steve Beckley said in a statement after the report was released. “Since opening our first ride just over 15 years ago, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has delivered over 10 million safe and enjoyable rides.”

“We have worked closely with the Colorado Division of Petroleum and Public Safety and independent security experts to review this incident,” he continued, noting that the amusement park will review the report “carefully. for recommendations “.

“More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply we are sorry for their loss and how determined we are to ensure that this does not happen again,” he added.

In a statement to KMGH, a Denver ABC affiliate, Dan Caplis, lawyer for the Estifanos family, said Wongel’s parents had received the report and called on people who “had problems” with the haunted Drop Mine to stop. manifest.

“Wongel’s parents are determined to do everything in their power to ensure that no one dies this way again,” said Caplis, who told the station he intended to press charges. against the park on behalf of the family.

ABC News’ Will McDuffie contributed to this report.

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