The state Department of Community Affairs strongly recommends that Ferris wheel operators “immediately adopt a policy that there be a minimum of two riders per vehicle” to prevent accidents similar to the one in which an 11-year-old Pleasantville girl died earlier this month.
Michael D. Triplett, supervisor of enforcement for the state’s carnival and amusement ride safety unit, on Friday issued a letter to operators of open-compartment Ferris wheels saying the state is establishing a minimum height requirement of 54 inches for riding without a parent or guardian along with recommending the minimum of two riders.
Triplett also wrote that the DCA “intends to introduce rules that will make this a requirement in the near future.” If a manufacturer’s requirement is more restrictive, that requirement is to be followed, he added.
Abiah Jones, an eighth-grader at PleasanTech Academy Charter School who was on a class trip, fell from the Giant Wheel on Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier in Wildwood on June 3. The girl had boarded gondola No. 3 of the 156-foot-tall wheel alone, and minutes later, about 12:30 p.m., she fell from the top of the ride.
Inspectors found the ride has a “long history of operating safely,” and added that the Giant Wheel had operated for more than 25 years without any serious incidents.
In a preliminary incident report released Monday, the state found that “the cause of the fall is unknown” because there were no eyewitnesses in the moment that Jones fell. The state used reports by the Wildwood Police Department and did not conduct independent interviews.
One of the pier’s surveillance cameras recorded images of the girl during the fall, but “the video does not show the victim leaving the gondola,” the report states. State officials viewed the security-camera video, which showed that she fell toward the center hub of the ride while the gondola she had been riding in was positioned near the highest point of the ride, the report states.
“At some point below the center hub of the ride she came in contact with the ride structure,” the report states.
She fell inside the ride’s structure and then struck a sign, steel fencing and a metal deck adjacent to the ride.
“Until the victim landed, the ride operators were unaware that there was a problem,” the report continues.
An autopsy was conducted June 5, and police are awaiting the results of toxicology tests. The state report noted that Jones suffered significant head trauma as well as cuts on her arms and shoulders.
She was buried June 8.
State inspectors checked the gondola Jones had been riding in and found no mechanical defects, noting that the doors were properly latched and the railings around the gondola were in sound condition. No defects or malfunctions were found with any of the other gondolas, and state inspectors rode in the same gondola from which Jones fell, to test it.
“Nothing abnormal was reported,” the report states.
Inspectors checked the ride’s manual and found that children older than 10 could ride alone. Morey’s Piers also uses a 54-inch height requirement.
“Abiah Jones met both criteria,” the report states.
In its conclusion, the state found that the railing around the gondolas was sufficient, but it was possible that a person either kneeling or standing on the seat “could fall from the ride if they lost their balance, chose to leave the vehicle or simply leaned too far out of the ride.”
With no witnesses or conclusive video, “it is unknown which of these occurred,” the report said, although, “it can be said with some confidence that the victim was not properly seated in the vehicle.”
While noting the ride’s safety record, the state then recommended that “operational changes to the ride may help to prevent similar accidents.”
“The fact that Abiah Jones was alone in the gondola without any nearby passengers may have led her to take a risk that she would have been convinced not to take if there were other riders in the gondola,” the report states.
In a separate June 13 memo sent to Geoff Rodgers, vice president of operations at Morey’s Piers, the DCA told the pier operator, “The Department found nothing wrong mechanically or operationally with the ride. Therefore, you may reopen the ride.”
Morey’s Piers spokeswoman Lindsey Young said Monday that the company was reviewing the report and added that “we do not have a reopen date established yet” for the Giant Wheel.
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