Most vertical amusement park rides are designed with shoulder restrictions, but A haunted mine drop in Glenwood Caverns where a 6-year-old girl died on Sunday has not been.
The reason, according to a TV interview her designer gave in 2017 when the flight opened, was to make it more exciting, “a little scary.”
Riding designer Stan Checkets of Providence, Utah, told Fox31 that the ride was intentionally built without the shoulder straps even though most others—including of his own—have them.
Checketts did not immediately respond to calls from The Denver Post on Tuesday.
Checketts founded and later sold S&S Sansei, one of the world’s largest recreational game design manufacturers. The company has about 150 landing flights globally — the latest in China — and none without a shoulder strap, according to Josh Hayes, the company’s director of sales and marketing.
Hays said the Haunted Mine Drop differs from the ones they design because it’s a free fall ride, while the ones they make are all air pressure driven.
“All of our towers have shoulder straps,” Hayes said. “When it comes to safety, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel when we have a design that works really well.”
Hayes said modern games can’t function if none of their safety features are properly attached.
“All our flights are based electronically to see if the restrictions were set incorrectly,” he said. “There are layoffs. The ride cannot be sent without checking and verifying all restrictions manually and electronically.”
The Haunted Mine Drop uses only a seat belt and has no seat belt, according to a promotional video made by Coaster Studios in May 2019 in which a park employee was interviewed. The seat belt system relies on a metal rod that is held in place across the riders’ courses, according to the video.
Riders sit forward and raise their arms and legs in the direction of the operator and then the six-seat platform is released, descending down through a mine shaft-like tunnel. The flight takes about 2.5 seconds and drops 110 feet.
A counterweight and braking system were used to slow the ride as it neared the bottom, according to the video.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a bad idea,” Hayes said. “I wouldn’t criticize a design without knowing the intricacies of that design. Safety is a priority for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t happen.”
Amusement park manufacturers around the world must adhere to safety standards. Hayes said in the US it’s ASTM International.
RES in Switzerland designs all of its turrets with “single lap rails… which give the rider more freedom compared to over-the-shoulder slings,” their website says. The ride height restriction is set to 41 inches.
According to the park’s website, the maximum height of the Haunted Mine Drop was 46 inches. Other vertical landing rides around the country vary in height restrictions, from up to 37 inches to 51 inches depending on the length of the landing, according to various theme park websites.
The Death Tower at Elich Gardens in Denver drops riders 200 feet at 60 mph. Minimum rider height 48 inches.
A 6-year-old female is about 42 to 49 inches long, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The challenge here is not knowing the forces imposed on the rider,” Hayes said. “A 6-year-old is a tough age too, because some are really tall or really short. Ideally, rider restrictions are based on height, and that’s how we design things.”
State officials who organize the amusement park rides are expected to begin their investigations on Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear if the Glenwood Caverns theme park had been reported since 2017, but accident data collected by the nonprofit Saferparks showed an incident in Glenwood Springs in August 2011.
Although the exact park is not specified, it does show that the separators on the alpine roller coaster train were not applied properly and that the car in which the 57-year-old woman was traveling collided with the car in front of her. The woman suffered a broken back, according to the database.
Only 13 roller-coaster injuries — two of them fatal — were reported in Colorado between 2010 and 2017, according to RidesDatabase.org.