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Six-year-old girl critically injured in Ferris wheel accident in US

The accident left the girl with a traumatic brain injury.

Members of the Greeneville Fire Department help people off the Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair.
Members of the Greeneville Fire Department help people off the Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair.
Image: AP

GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATORS IN the US are looking into how a Ferris wheel seat flipped over at a Tennessee county fair, sending three children plummeting 30 to 45 feet to the ground.

The accident that left a six-year-old girl with a traumatic brain injury has sharpened the focus on how carnival ride operators are regulated.

After a 2014 audit found shortcomings in Tennessee’s regulatory programme for rides at fairs and amusement parks, state officials decided to get out of the inspection business altogether.

The state now relies on private inspectors hired by operators and other states’ regulators to determine whether rollercoasters, zip lines and Ferris wheels are safe.

Authorities said the three youngsters fell from the ride at the Greene County Fair in eastern Tennessee on Monday night.

In a follow-up to the audit last year, the agency said Tennessee law does not require the state to hire its own inspectors. Funding for the Amusement Device Unit (ADU) was requested for the budget year ending in June but was denied.

This year, lawmakers approved nearly $490,000 (about €440,000) to bolster the state’s ADU with five new employees. They are not inspectors, but will be assigned to work on permitting and verification of compliance with inspection and insurance requirements.

The Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair was operated by Family Attractions Amusement, which is based in Valdosta, Georgia. It had received its permit to operate in Tennessee based on an inspection made in Indiana in June.

Ferris Wheel Fall Fair officials and law enforcement talk to witnesses at the fair. Source: AP

Dr Bracken Burns, director of trauma services at a local medical centre, said that at the time of the accident the critically-injured six-year-old was in a seat with her 10-year-old sister and a 16-year-old female, who are both in a stable condition.

Family Attractions Amusement did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Frank Gunther, an inspector hired by the company, told media at a news conference that a mechanical failure caused the accident. Three other inspectors are also investigating the scene.

Eight incidents this summer 

According to the Greeneville Sun, Family Attractions Amusement was fined in 2013 for violating safety laws in North Carolina after a Vortex ride suddenly lurched into motion as riders were disembarking, injuring four riders and a ride operator.

The Greene County incident was the eighth injury incident reported to Tennessee authorities on amusement rides this summer. They included fractured wrists and knee caps, a broken arm and injured backs.

Ferris-Wheel-Fall Source: AP

Tennessee recognises other states’ inspections for up to three months before requiring a new permit, according to state regulations.

Following this week’s accident, the operators will have to have a new third party inspection conducted before the ride can qualify for a new annual permit in Tennessee.

Responsibility for ride inspections was shifted from the state Department of Commerce to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development [sic] in 2009. But the 2014 comptroller’s audit found that the latter had failed over the ensuing years to develop a “viable amusement device regulatory unit”.

According to the audit, mistakes in record-keeping and a lack of inspectors gave rise to “serious concerns about whether the unit is able to ensure that all amusement devices in the state are appropriately permitted and inspected both annually and following accidents and fatalities”.

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Associated Press

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