Riders plunge 34 feet in roller coaster derailment

Ride operated previously at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A roller coaster that derailed in Florida had been put out of service by state inspectors twice in the past year and a half because of problems with the ride.

Two riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed Thursday night and was left dangling from the track. Firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk.

“The front car which was holding four passengers completely came off the tracks,” said Daytona Beach Fire spokeswoman Sasha Staton. The two riders who fell from the Sand Blaster ride suffered traumatic injuries, she said.

Of nine passengers taken to the hospital, all but two were discharged by Friday afternoon.

A month before the derailment, a state inspector had found problems with the ride, and the roller coaster was ordered to be taken out of service. State inspection reports released to The Associated Press on Friday show that an inspector last month found excessive corrosion, a damaged seat, and a crack in the track. Those problems, though, were corrected by the time of a follow-up inspection Thursday, according to the reports.

“Deficiencies corrected,” the inspector noted in the “comments” section of the report.

“Department inspectors conducted a thorough inspection of the ride, and it was found in compliance with state law,” according to a statement Friday from Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokeswoman Jennifer Meale. “Anyone who should be held accountable will be held accountable.”

A “stop order” also was issued for the ride in February 2017 because of corrosion and damaged handrails. The stop order continued through two following inspections. In May 2017, an inspector found damaged nuts and bolts. The next month, a seat was found damaged.

In videos posted on social media by witnesses, two people can be seen dangling from the car’s seats and metal scaffolding beneath the track. Bystanders gathered under the passengers, stretching out their hands to assure them that help was coming.

“Two people done fell out and clanked their head on the ground,” Matt Campbell of Knoxville, Tennessee, said in a video of the scene that he posted online.

Campbell and some relatives had been planning to ride the roller coaster, which looked fast but not too extreme for the younger children in the family. It had been raining but the storm seemed to have passed. As they walked toward the ride, they heard a loud bang and saw the front car jump off the track, he said.

“The car was banging against the rails real hard as it came around the turn,” Campbell said. “We noticed it wasn’t just a normal banging of the roller coaster going down the track, that’s what made us look up.”

Campbell said he and his relatives dropped what was in their hands, breaking his sunglasses and spilling their sodas on the ground, to rush toward the ride. He said he saw two women fall from the front car, while a man and a woman appeared to be dangling and stuck between that car and the metal scaffolding under the track.

As some people warned those passengers not to move before rescuers arrived, Campbell said a ride worker grabbed a ladder to help the injured who were hanging above the ground. Firefighters climbed up to rescue them as well as six other passengers in two cars that were still on the track.

“They had to use the tower ladder to get to them and then bring them on board and guide them safely back down,” Staton said.

Nine passengers were taken to the hospital, but hospital officials wouldn’t describe their injuries due to privacy concerns, said Tangela Boyd, a spokeswoman for Halifax Health Medical Center.

Two of the passengers work for a Kentucky company that provides services to people with mental disabilities, and they were on a business trip. One of them remained in the hospital and the other was discharged, said Jory Wells, an official with Alternative Outlook, LLC.

The accident is under investigation.

“We don’t know what happened,” Staton said.

Roller coaster databases show the Sand Blaster had operated in four other locations in its four-decade history. The ride opened at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk in 2013. Before that, it was at the Blue Diamond Amusement Park in New Castle, Delaware, where the ride was called the Blue Diamond Streak.

The coaster operated at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton, Pennsylvania, and before that, the coaster was at Legend City in Phoenix, Arizona. It originated at Adventureland Park in Addison, Illinois, according to Ultimate Rollercoaster.com.