Department of Agriculture releases report on ferris wheel accident at York Fair

YORK -- The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Division of Amusement Rides determined that a loose tie rod was to blame for an accident that injured two people riding the Giant Gondola Wheel at the York Fair on September 13.

The Dept. of Agriculture released its findings in a report issued Wednesday.

According to the investigation, a 45-year-old male rider was injured after falling about 25 feet to the ground from one of the gondolas, which was pitched at about 90 degrees. A second rider, a 48-year-old woman, managed to stay inside the gondola, but sustained an injury when the car righted itself and she fell to the floor.

"They've been traumatized by this incident and it's clear from reviewing the investigative report that they are clearly innocent victims here and were harmed through no fault of their own," said Kenneth Millman, Attorney representing victim's.

The ride operator was also injured after falling from the deck of the ride while rushing to render aid to the male victim.

The report also outlined the conditions that Deggeller Attractions, which operated the ride, must meet in order for the ride to re-open.

The department's report of the incident determined:

  • Two ride operators and an assistant stated they heard a loud noise originating from the Wheel, prior to the incident, but could not identify the origin of the noise.
  • The operators stated that they decided to unload the Wheel when they noted Gondola 1 (containing the two riders) entering the station (the loading/unloading area).
  • As Gondola 1 entered the station it was sideways. Normal orientation is upright, Gondola 1 was not swinging freely and appeared jammed, causing it to be 90 degrees from normal, or on its side.
  • The operators further stated that they attempted to brake the Wheel and Operator 1 attempted to right Gondola 1, injuring himself in the attempt.
  • Rider 1 and Rider 2 noted that a large metal bar (part of the structure of the Wheel) became detached at one end of the Wheel and swung to the side of Gondola 1 just prior to the accident. Both stated that they called out repeatedly to the operators during the last rotation of the Wheel just prior to the accident.

After an investigation and inspection of the ride, the Department's report said:

  • The tie rod (which was described as the "metal bar" by the riders) is designed to be held in place by a pin and hairpin, commonly known as a pin and r-key.
  • The pin, Hairpin or pin and Hairpin combination failed, causing the tie rod to come loose.
  • The pin and Hairpin were not recovered so it is unclear if the failure occurred because of a missing Hairpin, a Hairpin that was pulled accidentally/intentionally, a faulty (also referred to as “sprung”) Hairpin, a faulty pin, or that a pin or Hairpin that came in contact with the adjacent steel bearing block of the ride causing it to become dislodged.
  • A faulty Hairpin was removed from one of the other tie rods during the initial investigation on the evening of the accident.
  • The tie rod came loose before the gondola was locked in place. This is detailed by several witness accounts and photographs.
  • Documentation showed that the Wheel was inspected as required by the Department prior to opening of the ride. Additional documentation showed that the Wheel was inspected daily by Deggeller.
  • The location of the connection points for the tie rod to the sweep is not easily accessible and it is unlikely that pins or Hairpins were removed accidentally or intentionally.
  • The tie rod pins are located away from patrons and are located next to the bearing block for the T bar to which the gondolas are mounted. There is very little room between a Hairpin and the bearing block. If the pin rotates, a sprung Hairpin could contact the bearing block.
  • The generator power plant for the York Fair's midway are was located behind the Wheel. The noise from the power plant may have been enough to hinder communication between the operators, assistants and patrons. Riders 1 & 2 emphasized that they attempted to shout to the operators prior to the accident. The power plant was in operation during the department's investigation, and the noise was as described by the riders and made it difficult to communicate during the investigation.

In summary, the report said the following factors -- whether individually or in combination -- may have contributed to the rider falling from the gondola as the when underwent normal operations:

  • Operations: The midway power plant's proximity to the Wheel and the noise it created may have inhibited the ride operators from identifying the danger of the tie rod as it broke free from the wheel's superstructure and subsequent calls for aid from the two affected riders.
  • Maintenance/Structural Considerations:  As part of its on-site investigation the Department noted several maintenance/structural conditions that it brings to Deggeller and Chance’s attention. The extent (if any) to which these contributed to the accident is not known and the Department offers no opinion in this regard.
  • These conditions are as follows:
    • Pin installation. The Department has noted the discrepancies in the proper installation of pins as they relate to the tie rods. As part of the reopening requirements Deggeller will need to confirm and adhere to Chance’s pinning requirements.
    • R-key serviceability. The Department has sent out bulletins to all Pennsylvania amusement ride owners and inspectors reminding them to pay attention to this detail.

Immediately following the incident, the Department of Agriculture said, inspectors interviewed witnesses, ride operators, and Deggeller management; conducted a detailed inspection of the wheel; reviewed photographic and testimonial evidence; and attempted to recreate the circumstances of the event.

Over the next several weeks after the incident, the department said it inspected five additional Giant Gondola Wheels registered and operating in Pennsylvania.

Below are the requirements outlined in the report which Deggeller Attractions must meet before the ride will be inspected for reopening:

  • Verify that the gondola, related tie rods, and support structure are undamaged, or have been replaced to meet manufacturer specifications;
  • Verify that the rest of the ride was not affected by the incident and is in good working order;
  • Verify the appropriate pins for the ride are being used along with confirmation of the proper installation; and
  • Provide the department with a written description of: any changes to the owner’s manual concerning the specifications of the proper pins to be used for the ride as described above and any updates to the owner’s manual concerning operators being trained properly in emergency procedures and the audit process to ensure they are adhering to requirements.

In addition to the above requirements for the wheel owned and operated by Deggeller Attractions, the department issued a bulletin notice on October 10, 2019 to all Pennsylvania owners of Giant Gondola Wheels requiring them to confirm with the manufacturer the proper installation of pins.

For the full investigative report and summary of contributing factors related to the Giant Wheel incident at the York Fair visit agriculture.pa.gov.

"My clients main concern is that no one ever goes through what they've gone through again and that corrections be made and that this ride be safe for the public," said Millman.

For more information on amusement ride safety in Pennsylvania, including access to owner information, date of last inspection and other related information visit ridesafe.pa.gov.

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