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Brake malfunction stranded WindSeeker passengers in midair

A state agency is investigating the incident at Knott's Berry Farm in which 20 people were left dangling 300 feet in the air.

September 21, 2012|By Weston Phippen, Los Angeles Times
  • The Windseeker with the seats removed Thursday after 20 people were trapped for hours a day earlier.
The Windseeker with the seats removed Thursday after 20 people were trapped… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

A brake malfunction caused Knott's Berry Farm's WindSeeker ride to shut down suddenly Wednesday, leaving riders dangling midair for hours.

"When the brake froze, the ride safety mechanism did what it was supposed to do; it stopped the ride," said Erika Monterroza of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The abrupt stop left 20 passengers suspended 300 feet in the air. It took maintenance crews 31/2 hours to lower all of the passengers.

The lengthy delay getting passengers to the ground was blamed on a brake that work crews had difficulty releasing to lower the ride to the ground. The workers eventually freed the brake.

"The patrons were safe throughout the process because there are several brakes," Monterroza said. "But it was a lengthy process."

The WindSeeker malfunctioned earlier this month, an incident that the Division of Occupational Safety and Health is also investigating.

In that Sept. 7 incident, there was a problem with an electronic relay that communicates with the computer, Monterroza said. When the relay broke, the ride's safety security system responded and shut down the ride. Crews replaced an electrical panel and the ride resumed operation the next day.

Michael Dills, 50, said his 11-year-old daughter was stuck on the ride that day.

"I'm a parent, and I had to watch my daughter sit in the air, and that was not a fun thing," Dills said.

Dills, an engineer, followed up with the safety agency. He said the investigator told him that the agency was looking into the incident and that one of the biggest problems was that it took so long to return riders safely to the ground, a job that should take 30 minutes.

"If they did their job right, then that ride shouldn't get stuck the way it did," Dills said.

The ride should remain out of service until the investigation is complete, Monterroza said, which would include digging through the maintenance history, interviews with staff, and working with the park and the manufacturer, which Knott's Berry Farm lists on its website as a Netherlands company, Mondial.

Knott's Berry Farm spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey didn't have many details. But she said, "All I know is that the safety security system went off, and it shut down the ride, and we're closing it down until we find out why."

She said Knott's Berry Farm voluntarily informed the safety agency of the problem, which it wasn't obligated to do because no park guests were injured.

weston.phippen@latimes.com

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