On Tuesday, June 21st, at 12:45 pm during the San Diego County Fair, Mike Wood got a call that ride operators hope they never receive. His son Matt was on the line and there was a problem with the Tivoli Remix (themed Techno Power). Wood made his way across the midway to the ride where he found a 14 year-old girl sitting on the deck of the ride, awaiting emergency personnel. His ride operator, Michael Culver, was unconscious and needed attention. The ride was stopped and emergency personnel arrived while Wood made sure everyone was attended to.
Wood then went through the list of actions he trains for with his employees. He immediately called the State of California and OSHA informing them of the accident. His next call was to his insurance company, also notifying them, and his third call was to the US manufacturer's representative for Tivoli. Wood then made sure the ride was shut completely down and preserved the scene for investigators.
Checking on the rider and his employee, Wood found out the girl was taken by golf cart to the track where she was airlifted to Children's Hospital. His employee was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he spent two days in the Intensive Care Unit with a recurring headache and vertigo. The girl was treated and released, without any major injuries, but she did have a sprained right wrist, lacerations and bruises to one side, said Wood. Culver was later released and returned home to allow his injuries to heal.
"The whole incident left me rattled", said Wood, an industry safety advocate. His father, "Red" Wood, was one of the pioneers of safety programs on the midway.
With the accident scene secure, Wood met with the midway safety consultant, Comspeq, the fair manager, midway manager and fair public relations team to go over the details of the incident as they knew them so far and decide who would be speaking with media outlets already clamoring for information.
Piecing together the accounts of his team operating the ride, Wood determined that there were two girls riding when the ReMix came to a stop at the end of the cycle. With everything at "0", the restraints were released and one girl got off the ride. The second girl was having trouble dismounting when the ride started moving again. The ride operator got out of the way of the turning cars and the operator in the control box pushed the ride abort button, but the ride did not stop. He then pushed the emergency stop button, halting power to the ride and causing the ride to begin coast to a stop.
Fearing for the safety of the girl, the operator made his way to the center of the ride, trying to access the setup controls in an effort to make the ride stop. As the ride was coasting to a stop, and with the girl now out of the car, the operator, staying low, was moving back to the outside of the ride when he lifted his head slightly and was knocked down by the ride. Eyewitnesses said the operator staggered towards the ride entrance, eventually falling through the gate at the entrance of the ride, landing on the midway unconscious.
The following day the state, along with Wood and Comspeq, began the accident follow up. When the ride was started again, each lapbar was tested along with the safety systems and emergency stops. Wood said his "greatest fear" was realized when the ride performed normally.
The investigators then waited for the Thursday arrival of Tivoli's US representative, Jim Ziaja. Upon his arrival, they looked through the schematics of the ride, tracing the actual wiring and comparing it to the plans, looking for abnormalities. They then took a laptop with the PLC information and compared it to the PLC on the ride. They were identical.
Having reviewed the safety systems and wiring without finding a cause, they then looked at the pump, verifying the control connections and called the pump manufacturer to ask if there was any way the pump could conceivably malfunction. Three possible causes were suggested: 1) a bad input signal, 2) a broken spring on the T-bar or 3) contamination in the flapper valve that may cause a "null shift" and cause the ride to move.
Determining that the third option was the most likely, Wood asked how the problem could be fixed for future use. As a team, they came up with a wiring change and accompanying programming changes. They also installed a new pump and servo. The manufacturer approved the wiring changes and their electrical contractor in England performed the changes. Then testing of the ride could begin.
Wood ran the ride for 12 hours and couldn,t replicate the incident. They then spent an additional 4-5 hours testing the changes, followed by another 12 hours of running the ride, the equivalent of an estimated 575 ride cycles.
The State of California returned to observe and inspect the changes and they asked for additional wording for the training manual, which Wood provided. On Tuesday of the following week, the ride was given permission to operate by the state and reopened after being closed for a week.
Wood said that when an incident initially happens you go into "battle mode" and revert to your training. His NAARSO experience trained him to assess who was injured and who wasn't, attend to the injured parties first and preserve the scene.
Still, there are questions that run through your head and the feeling of dread and guilt for the incident having happened on a piece of equipment you own. The questions arise - "What happened?", "What can I do differently?" and most importantly, "How can I prevent this from happening in the future?" "I'm in the business of putting smiles of people's faces, not hurting them", said Wood.
Wood said an incident like this reinforces why you go through the steps you do to ensure the safety of your guests. When dealing with mechanical equipment and fallible people, there is always a possibility --- no matter how small - that you are a breath away from an incident or accident. "Its not a question of if, it's a question of when", said Wood. You must have the proper training and knowledge and execute your safety plans so you can survive an incident with minimal harm or injury and know that you took every step humanly possibly prevent the incident from occurring, he added.
Though the incident appears to be the result of a freak mechanical failure, "It's still a tough thing to get over", he concluded.
Click here to download the Wood Entertainment Injury Report
Click here to download the Tivoli Mfg Repair Report