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Brake freeze shut down Knott's WindSeeker ride, officials say

September 20, 2012 |  2:57 pm

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

The determination was made Thursday by Cal/OSHA investigators.

“When the brake froze, the ride safety mechanism did what it was supposed to do; it stopped the ride,” said Erika Monterroza, a Cal/OSHA staffer.

The abrupt stop left 20 passengers suspended 300 feet in the air. It took maintenance crews 3 1/2 hours to lower passengers.

The reason the process took so long was because workers had to raise the ride to the top to free a counter balance that would then lower the ride, Monterroza said. But during that process, she said, the brake wouldn’t release and crews had to manipulate the brake loose from the top of the machine.

“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 Cal\OSHA 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 the ride down. 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.

Being an engineer, he followed up with Cal/OSHA and said the investigator told them they were looking into it 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 only 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 called Mondia.

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 Cal/OSHA of the problem, which it wasn’t obligated to do because no park guests were injured.

But Dills remains unconvinced.

“Knott’s is offering me free ticket s to come back,” Dills said. “But I really don’t want their tickets.”

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-- Weston Phippen 

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