By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM, KIMBERLEE KRUESI and ERIK VERDUZCO
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A visible crack in the support beam of a North Carolina roller coaster served as a reminder of the risks that sometimes arise with amusement park rides, particularly as families and adrenaline junkies flock to the attractions throughout the summer.
Video footage of the Charlotte-based Carowinds’ popular Fury 325 — known as a “Giga coaster” due to its dramatic height of 325 feet (99 meters) — showed a key support beam bending with the top visibly detached as cars packed with unsuspecting passengers whirled by at speeds of up to 95 mph (150 kph).
The park, which straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina line, closed the ride late last week as questions swirled about how the crack occurred. Those answers remained largely unknown as state investigators were on site in Monday morning.
Tommy Petty, chief of the state Department of Labor’s Amusement Device Bureau, confirmed investigators “already came and went” from Carowinds on Monday but declined to share details about their findings. Meanwhile, Carowinds said in a statement that all of its rides, including Fury 325, are inspected daily “to ensure their proper functioning and structural integrity.”
Several Carowinds visitors said they were aware that the ride had been closed for repairs, but they were not deterred from enjoying the park’s other attractions.
Greg Bledsoe, a 22-year-old season pass holder, visited the park Monday despite having watched the viral video of the Fury 325 track separating from its support beam mid-ride.
“I’m just glad I wasn’t on it because I don’t want to fall off. I’m glad nobody fell off,” he said.
While Bledsoe said the video was “a bit of a shock,” he remains confident in the park’s overall safety and plans to make good use of his season pass.
“Hopefully they get it fixed before the season’s over so I can ride it some more,” he said of the broken coaster. “It’s like the main thing here.”
Industry experts have been quick to counter that millions of Americans hop on roller coasters, Ferris wheels, water slides and many other rides without ever experiencing issues. They note injury rates are extremely low.
A 2021 survey compiled on behalf of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions found “0.9 injuries per million rides,” said Caitlin Dineen, the group’s spokesperson. That year, more than 1,200 ride-related injuries were reported out of the typical 1.7 billion rides that take place each year across 400 locations in North America.
“Safety is the top priority for the global attractions industry,” Dineen said. “An excellent safety record is in the best interest of the industry, and leaders within it are committed to providing safe and secure attractions for all their guests and visitors.”
For Steven Powers, a resident of Columbia, South Carolina who visited Carowinds Monday with friends, the positive atmosphere of the park outweighs any worries.
“As far as any other safety concerns, I don’t believe there are any,” Powers said. “I think always subconsciously we think something might happen in the back of our minds, but I also know that they do have people’s lives in their hands so they’re going to make sure that they do what they’re supposed to do on their end.”
Even when amusement park mishaps don’t result in injuries, they can still upend vacations and cause headaches for summer fun-seekers.
Shortly after footage was released of the crack inside Fury 325’s support structure, riders on a roller coaster in northeastern Wisconsin were trapped upside down for three hours before emergency responders arrived to rescue them.
WJFW reports the ride had been inspected recently when a mechanical failure occurred, halting the coaster mid-ride, according to Capt. Brennan Cook of the Crandon Fire Department.
But sometimes deaths do occur on an amusement park ride.
In 2022, Orlando’s International Drive district removed a towering 400-foot (122-meter) ride after it was directly linked to the death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson — a Missouri teen who fell to his death while on the ride the year prior.
Sampson, who lived near St. Louis, Missouri, was visiting Orlando during spring break when he died.
An initial report from outside engineers hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture said sensors on the ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in the teen not being properly secured.