The manufacturer of an amusement park ride that broke apart and killed a man believes that corrosion is to blame for the deadly accident.
Bystanders captured video on July 26 at the Ohio State Fair that shows the Fire Ball ride swinging back and forth like a pendulum and spinning in the air when it crashed into something and part of the ride flew off, throwing several passengers to the ground. On its website, Amusements of America states that, since its debut in 2002, the Fire Ball has “become one of the most popular thrill rides on the AOA midway.” The company describes the ride as an “aggressive thrill ride,” stating that it swings riders 40 feet into the air while spinning them at 13 revolutions per minute. Ride inspectors say they did not notice anything out of the ordinary when they conducted their inspections and cleared the Fire Ball ride for passengers. All of the rides at the fair are checked several times when they are being set up to ensure that they are set up the way the manufacturer intended. The state’s chief inspector of amusement ride safety, Michael Vartorella, said that the Fire Ball had been inspected three or four times before the fair opened. The incident prompted officials at the Ohio State Fair to temporarily shut down all rides for a short time so that they could be inspected, as well as officials at the California State Fair to shut down the Fire Ball ride there.
The ride’s manufacturer, KMG, has recently offered an explanation as to why the ride broke apart, stating that corrosion within a support beam wore away the steel wall’s thickness over the years, causing a catastrophic failure of the swinging and spinning ride. Corrosion experts say that the company’s account points to water or wet debris being trapped within the hollow support arm of the ride, probably while it was being transported or stored during the carnival off-season. What’s not so clear is how the water got into the support beam in the first place. Exterior structures of rides such as the Fire Ball should ideally be designed in a way that moisture cannot be trapped. Ultrasonic testing is the best way to find out if corrosion is eating away at metal, but it can also be felt or spotted at the point when rust starts to build up. Amusements of America submitted paperwork to the Ohio State Fair showing that it had completed ultrasonic testing of the ride’s 24 gondola arm pins last year, but it is not clear whether the test examined the area where the carriage broke on July 26.
The main question that is still plaguing investigators is why the corrosion or rust were not spotted before the accident, especially since it would take quite a bit of corrosion to cause the steel arm of an amusement park ride to break apart. “I would be surprised if there was that much corrosion and it wasn’t noticeable in some way,” said investigator Greg Fehr. “You should see somewhere evidence of the corrosion working through the walls before it fractures.”
The family of the deceased rider filed a wrongful death action shortly after the accident.
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