Ride operators didn’t properly check that girl, 6, was buckled in before she fell to her death

·3 min read
 Wongel Estifanos tragically died while riding the Hanuted Mine Drop ride in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (GoFundme/Estifanos family)
Wongel Estifanos tragically died while riding the Hanuted Mine Drop ride in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (GoFundme/Estifanos family)

An investigation into the death of a 6-year-old Colorado girl who fell from a theme park ride has found operators failed to check that she was wearing a restraint.

Wongel Estifanos fell 100 feet (30 meters) to her death from the Haunted Mine Drop ride at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park over Labour Day weekend on 5 September.

Investigators from the Colorado Department of Labour and Employment found the child was sitting on the two seat belts instead of wearing them across her lap, and two newly hired operators failed to notice during a routine check.

Investigators also discovered that an alarm system warned that Wongel wasn’t properly restrained, but one of the workers reset the system and started the ride because they weren’t trained well enough to know what to do about it.

Prosecutors will now determine whether to file criminal charges.

Dan Caplis, an attorney representing the Estifanos family, said the investigative report shows “this could have been so easily prevented”.

He said the family plans on suing the park and are determined to make sure this never happens again.

“The report makes it clear this is the fault of the park, not the fault of the rider,” Mr Caplis said.

“The park was fully responsible to ensure everyone was restrained. This is not one of those rides where the rider is responsible for anything, including buckling themselves in. The park is supposed to do all of that. The report makes it clear that this could have been so easily prevented.”

Park founder Steve Beckley told the Denver Post that “safety is, and always has been, our top priority”.

Mr Beckley said management was reviewing the report’s recommendations, adding that more than 10 million people had safely enjoyed rides at the park since it opened 15 years ago.

“More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply sorry we are for their loss and how committed we are to making sure it never happens again,” he wrote.

He said the future of the Haunted Mine Drop ride is “undetermined”.

The ride includes two seat belts – one that uses a buckle similar to those in vehicles, and another that uses a rod buckling system.

Operation manuals for the rides say workers are expected to fasten both lap belts, but the manuals do not include instructions on what to do if an error occurs.

Investigators said the workers were not trained on the operating manual, the alarm system or how to respond to a problem.

Operators are supposed to unfasten all of the seat belts after each ride so the next load of people can be buckled in. But investigators found that the seat belts were left fastened in Wongel’s seat and that she sat on top and then pulled the tail flap of a belt across her lap, making it appear as if she was buckled in.

When the alarm went off, one operator went back to double-check the rods and saw they were properly affixed, and a second operator then unlocked the rods and reinserted them. The workers failed to understand that the child wasn’t wearing the seat belts across her lap, according to the report. The alarm was reset and the ride began.

A GoFundme account set up by the family to cover funeral and costs and other expenses has raised more than $75,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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