WILDWOOD — An 11-year-old Pleasantville girl on a school trip died Friday after falling from the Ferris wheel at Morey’s Piers.
Wildwood police confirmed the victim’s identity as Abiah Jones, of Pleasantville. Jones was a student at PleasanTech Academy Charter School, and was on a class trip visiting Morey’s Piers with classmates and chaperones. PleasanTech officials could not be reached for comment.
Capt. Robert Regalbuto of the Wildwood Police Department said the student fell from the upper half of the ride — the 156-foot Giant Wheel at Morey’s Mariner’s Landing Pier — at about 12:30 p.m. Police say the Ferris wheel was in motion when Jones fell about 100 feet.
Wildwood police said emergency responders and Morey’s staff tried to administer first aid at the site. A Medivac helicopter was called to take the girl to a trauma center. But the extent of her injuries was so severe, the helicopter was recalled and Jones was driven to the Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House. She was pronounced dead at 1:14 p.m., police said.
The rest of the girl’s classmates were accounted for and escorted off the pier after the accident.
All three of Morey’s Piers were scheduled to be open until 11 p.m. Friday, but were closed at 5 p.m. out of respect for the victim’s family, said Will Morey, president of Morey’s Piers. Morey, speaking at a press conference about 5:15 p.m. at Jumbo’s, a pier restaurant, said the piers would reopen at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Giant Wheel will remain closed indefinitely.
Morey said Friday was “a very tragic day,” and said the company extended its sympathy to the family.
He said it appears Jones was alone in one of the car’s passenger gondolas, which is secured with a double latch. The door of the car opens inward, making it difficult to climb out of, he said.
Regalbuto said preliminary investigations indicate the fall did not seem to be caused by a mechanical problem with the ride, which is located at Mariner’s Landing at Schellenger Avenue and the Boardwalk. However, a ride inspector did report to the amusement pier to be part of the investigation, he said.
Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Hollie Gilroy said the ride, which opened in 1985, was last inspected on March 17 and passed. Rides of this nature are inspected once each year, Gilroy said.
Following Friday’s accident, police and other emergency personnel interviewed witnesses and pier employees and tested the ride. Regalbuto said police were working to contact the girls’ parents. The family could not be reached, and no other information about the victim or her family was released.
“We’re still trying to get more witnesses,” Regalbuto said.
The popular amusement park was swarming with children Friday during the pier’s annual Education Extravaganza — a day for area students and educators to enjoy the park. The event markets to students from grades three to 12 for “a day of hands-on learning and interactive participation” involving the nearby beach and amusement pier.
Immediately following the incident, the park remained open. Several hundred people — including many on school trips — were enjoying rides, playing games and eating. Others were riding waterslides and swimming in Morey’s Raging Waters waterpark, which is located behind the Ferris wheel. Park officials eventually closed the pier by 5 p.m.
Ryan Conti, 16, and Samantha Rossi, 17, both of Vineland, came to the Wildwoods Friday following Vineland High School’s prom Thursday. Although they said they had fun at the pier Friday, they were surprised it remained open for most of the afternoon following the death. Rossi said Conti had tried to get her to go on the Giant Wheel earlier in the day.
“Yeesh,” she said.
“She hates it,” he said.
“It’s scary,” she said. “They (the chairs) always stop at the top and obnoxiously shake you around.”
Nearby, Catherine Tay and Sharissa Chan, both 23, were making their first visit to the pier since they worked here in 2009. The Singapore natives now live in North Carolina, where they are taking part in a psychiatry internship.
Taking pictures of the Sea Dragon ride they formerly worked at, they were startled to hear that someone had died on the Giant Wheel.
“We used to take it all the time,” Tay said. “It’s still safe, right?”
Ocean City residents Casey Hanna, Briana Armand and Courtney Allen, all 16, were also surprised.
“It was scary,” Armand said.
“We thought it was a joke,” Allen said. “We didn’t think anything of it.”
Police officials took pictures of various carts on the wheel, which was cordoned off with yellow police tape, and part of the wheel’s landing dock was covered in white sheets. By 3:30 p.m., members of the Wildwood Fire Department arrived at the wheel to clean up the scene. They left with two bags of clothing in red bio-hazard bags. Cleaning crews from Morey’s cleaned up the remainder shortly later.
A Facebook group was set up to honor the victim late Friday afternoon, as word spread of her death. Within hours, more than 500 people had signed up to follow the page, many of whom had never met Jones.
“It’s sad anyone has to lose their life but it breaks my heart MORE knowing a young person didn’t even finish their life, barely even started it,” one commenter wrote.
Staff writers Scott Cronick and Dan Good contributed to this report.
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