Ohio State Fair Opens Without Rides After Deadly Malfunction

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The Ohio State Fair opened Thursday but its amusement rides remained closed one day after a man was killed and seven other people were injured when a thrill ride broke apart and flung people into the air.

Video captured by a bystander at the fair Wednesday evening shows the Fire Ball ride swinging above its bottom platform when a crashing sound is heard. The footage then shows one section holding four riders come apart as it begins to swing upward and at least two people tumbling in the air.

Screams are heard as passengers are thrown to the ground.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich ordered that all the rides be closed until they can be inspected and deemed safe. He planned to tour the fair Thursday.

“The fair is about the best things in life, and tonight with this accident it becomes a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Kasich said.

Officials said the man who was killed was one of several people who were thrown to the ground when the ride malfunctioned. His name has not been released. Ohio State Medical Center said three of the injured were being treated there. Two of them were in critical condition, the hospital said Thursday.

Officials were investigating what caused the ride to break apart and did not speculate on the possible causes.

“Of course we want to get to the bottom of this,” Kasich said, noting that there could be things to be learned that could help other fairs and amusement parks. “Make no mistake about it, it’s a very, very sad night for all of us.”

The man who was killed was 18 and the seven people injured ranged in age from 13 to 41, a Columbus fire official told WKRC-TV.

Kaylie Bellomy was in the next group waiting to board the Fire Ball.

“It was going for a minute and it was at its highest point and I saw somebody fall on the ride, and then a minute later the whole like row of seats fell off and hit the ground,” Bellomy told WCMH-TV.

It was chaos afterward, she said. “Everybody was running. I got ran over trying to get out of the way.”

The Fire Ball ride swings 24 riders back and forth like a pendulum while they sit facing each other in four-seat carriages that also spin and are attached to the main arm.

Amusements of America, the company that provides rides to the Ohio State Fair, describes the Fire Ball as an “aggressive thrill ride.” On its website, it says the Fire Ball — manufactured by KMG — debuted in 2002 and is one of its most popular rides on the midway. It says it can swing passengers 40 feet (12 meters) above the ground, while spinning them at 13 revolutions per minute.

Amusements of America did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The accident prompted California State Fair officials to shut down the Fire Ball ride there. Barry Schaible, an inspector with a company hired by the fair, told KCRA-TV in Sacramento, “We shut down the ride immediately, unloaded it and it’s closed right now.”

Ride inspectors did not notice anything out of the ordinary when they conducted their inspections and cleared the Fire Ball for passengers, said Director of Agriculture David Daniels. All of the rides at the fair are checked several times when they are being set up to ensure they are set up the way the manufacturer intended, he said.

Michael Vartorella, the state’s chief inspector of amusement ride safety, said the Fire Ball was inspected three or four times before the fair opened.

“We take this job very serious, and when we have an accident like this … it hits us really hard,” Vartorella said. “My children, my grandchildren ride this equipment. Our guys do not rush through this stuff. We look at it, we take care of it, and we pretend it’s our own.”

Officials said none of the rides would be open until they are all fully inspected.

“Our hearts are heavy for the families of those involved in last night’s tragic accident,” the fair said early Thursday morning in a statement posted on its Twitter page. “We have shut down all rides until the state has inspected each and every ride again and deemed them to be safe.”

The Ohio State Fair, which is one of the largest state fairs in the U.S., runs through Aug. 6.

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