Just before a 6-year-old girl fell to her death on a ride at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in early September, workers failed to notice that she wasn’t wearing any restraints, a state investigation found on Friday.
According to the report, amusement park employees improperly checked the two seatbelts meant to secure Wongel Estifanos before starting the Haunted Mine Drop. She then fell 110 feet. Unlike most vertical drop rides, this one does not use shoulder harnesses.
Investigators from the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety found that Estifanos was sitting on both seat belts, and “was only holding the tail of one seatbelt across her lap.”
Wongel’s seat belts were locked underneath her, as her seat had previously been empty. Workers are supposed to unlock seat belts between rides so new riders can use them, but that didn’t happen in this case.
As one of the workers tightened the seat belts, the tail pulled out of Estifanos’ hands, which the worker also did not notice. While an indicator light alerted employees there was an issue with her seat belt, they did not know how to respond, the report said, so they dispatched the ride.
When the ride was over, the employees saw Estifanos was no longer in her seat.
Her death was due to “multiple operator errors,” the report stated, and that this was due in part to “inadequate training.” Investigators found the workers did not follow the operating procedures in the operations manual and that they did not “fully understand their responsibility regarding passenger safety.”
The issue with restraints has allegedly happened before on the Haunted Mine Drop. According to the report, a rider emailed the park on Aug. 19, 2019, and said they had to alert employees that they were not buckled in. At first the employee “disputed this,” before checking to see if the restraint was around the rider’s waist — which it wasn’t — and then the employee finally buckled in the passenger.
“I urge you to look into this, otherwise you could have customers who will get seriously injured or even worse, dead,” the passenger wrote.
A few days after the deadly Sept. 5 incident, the passenger followed up on their two-year-old email, this time contacting the Garfield County coroner. They said they had received no response from the park.
“No one reached out to me to ask me what happened on that ride,” they wrote.
The park’s general manager, Nancy Heard, told investigators she never received rider’s initial email and said it had automatically been filed in an incorrect folder.
“This truly is a regrettable clerical error — both in light of the tragic recent events and owing to the lengths to which Glenwood Caverns goes in order to respond to guest satisfaction concerns,
especially with regards to safety,” she wrote to investigators. She added that the park had altered its protocols to keep the email issue from happening in the future. She also said she’d investigate the matter further.
The Haunted Mine Drop will remain closed until a new permit is issued, which the state said depends on safety issues being addressed. For now, it has disappeared from the park’s website. The rest of the park’s thrill rides will remain open through October.
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