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6-year-old falls to her death in horrific amusement park ride oversight involving seat belts

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A 6-year-old Colorado girl died on Sept. 5th when “she became separated” from her amusement ride seat and plunged to the bottom of a 110-foot underground shaft after ride operators failed to realize she wasn’t buckled in.

When 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos boarded the Haunted Mine Drop ride at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure in Glenwood Springs, she chose a previously unoccupied seat in which the two seat belts were already buckled.

Being as she’s a child, she thought nothing of it and simply sat on top of the two already connected seat belts and then “put the tail of a seatbelt across her lap,” according to an accident report by the Colorado Division of Oil And Public Safety.

Note that once buckled, the belts can’t be manually unbuckled. They must be unbuckled from the ride’s central control panel.

Published last week, the report says that when a ride operator performed a customary safety check, they only saw Estifanos holding the end of the seatbelt and “did not notice that the seatbelts were not positioned across her lap.”

But when the ride operator returned to start the ride, an alert on the control panel indicated a seat belt error.

The operator then “returned multiple times to check the rods on all seats and pushed the rods into the restraint blocks,” according to OPS’s report.

The report notes that each seat has “two separate seat belts.”

The control panel “monitors one seatbelt; this seatbelt has a rod (also known as a pin in the manual) which pushes into and is held by a buckle (known as a restraint block in the manual) next to the passenger’s seat. The other seatbelt mimics an automotive lap seatbelt and is not monitored by the HMI screen.”

The ride operator believed the error was a technical glitch “because they were convinced the restraint had been cycled and that the issue was improperly inserted rods.”

Because the error still persisted after the operator checked the rods, a second ride operator arrived to assist.

The second operator “chose to unlock the restraint block using the manual Restraint Release Selector Switch, and then went and removed all rods from the restraint block next to the seats and immediately reinserted them, without understanding and resolving the actual issue – that Ms. Estifanos did not have the seatbelts across her lap,” according to the report.

The second operator also performed a customary safety check but failed to notice — just like the first operator — that Estifanos was sitting on her seat belts.

The “restraint block” trick the second operator used apparently worked, because when both operators returned to the control panel, it showed no errors.

The two then “dispatched the ride” — and in doing so, they effectively dispatched Miss Estifanos, who was thrown out of her seat and then plunged to the bottom of the lengthy shaft.

Estifanos’s parents are reportedly planning a lawsuit.

“The report documents that you had a series of errors, series of opportunities to prevent the death of one gal. The parents are determined to make sure that this never happens to anyone again,” their attorney, Dan Caplis, told Denver station KCNC.

It almost happened to another passenger two years ago.

According to OPS’s report, the passenger also encountered already buckled seat belts when boarding the ride on Aug. 14th, 2019, and tried desperately to have the situation rectified but initially to no avail.

“The operator pulled on the tightening strap of the seatbelt and disputed that the patron was not buckled in. After persistence from the patron, the operator did verify that the patron was not buckled in and mitigated the issue prior to dispatching the ride,” the report reads.

Just imagine what would have happened had the passenger not been persistent.

“You look at this ride and if a mistake is made, somebody dies. If a mistake is made, somebody falls 110 feet to their death,” Caplin noted in his statement to KCNC.

The 2019 incident was reportedly blamed on “inadequate training” that the park then pledged to fix with “refresher training.”

Yet OPS’s investigation found that the training received by the operators on duty during Estifanos’ death “did not appear to emphasize the inherent risks of the ride, nor did it include reviewing the manufacturer’s operating manual, which is a violation of Amusement Ride and Devices Regulations.”

“Because of this Operators 1 and 2 did not fully understand their responsibility regarding passenger safety. Not having a complete understanding of the HMI screen and reasons for the various errors, the operators were not equipped to operate and dispatch the ride,” the report notes.

Because of this error, the park reportedly faces fines ….

“This investigation did identity violations of the Colorado Amusement Ride and devices and regulations and enforcement will proceed,” Colorado Department of Labor public safety manager Greg Johnson reportedly said in his own statement.

Estifanos’s family is desperate to ensure the park faces much more than just a meager fine and is now asking that anyone who’s ever experienced any issue with the Haunted Mine Drop ride please come forward.

For their part, the owners and staff of the park sat they’re sorry.

“The owners, management and entire Glenwood Caverns family are heart-broken by the tragic accident that occurred here on September 5. There is no way we can imagine the pain of loss that the Estifanos family and their friends are experiencing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them,” they said in a statement.

Meanwhile, after shutting down briefly, the park reopened on Sept. 11th …

Vivek Saxena

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