Officials: Daily inspections, ride restrictions keep Canobie Lake Park attractions safe

Union Leader Correspondent
July 28. 2013 4:44PM
Riders enjoy the Corkscrew rollercoaster at Canobie Lake Park in Salem. (UNION LEADER FILE)

SALEM — Following the tragic death of a Texas woman who fell from a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas this month, officials at Canobie Lake Park in Salem said the safety of guests and employees remains their top priority.

Though the Granite State amusement park has made no specific changes in response to the July 19 tragedy, park management continues to monitor its safety polices, practices and procedures daily, spokesman Chris Nicoli said on Wednesday.

The Salem amusement park opened its latest roller coaster, Untamed, last year, and Canobie Lake's latest ride, the Equinox, made its official debut earlier this summer.

The new thrill ride takes riders spinning upside-down, reaching a maximum height of 75-feet in the air.

Those two rides, just like all the park's other attractions, are subject to daily inspections by maintenance mechanics, the rides management team and operations staff.

"All three inspections are conducted everyday prior to the attractions being opened to the public," Nicoli said, noting that additional inspections are conducted annually by the state, as well as an independent third-party inspection company.

While the park makes every effort to accommodate guests of all shapes and sizes, certain restrictions do come into play, he added.

Working closely with ride engineers and manufacturers, park officials give each ride minimum and maximum height requirements, and in some cases, place restrictions on "certain body types and/or proportions" according to Nicoli,

For instance, guests under 4 feet tall aren't permitted on the Untamed coaster. Those who are taller than 77 inches cannot ride the Equinox.

"Each ride has its rules, which are clearly posted near the ride entrance," he added.

According to Briggs Lockwood, a safety inspector with the NH Department of Safety's Tramway and Amusement Ride division, state law requires that each amusement park ride in the Granite State be subject to an annual inspection.

For fixed-site rides that means an inspection must be completed before opening for the season. Portable rides used for traveling carnivals are required to pass inspection prior to each set-up.

Lockwood is one of two full-time safety inspectors who oversee the state's 675 or so amusement rides.

When a ride fails to pass inspection, state officials typically provide its owner with written recommendations to meet compliance.

State inspectors work regularly with ride manufacturers to keep abreast of trends in safety concerns.

"It's pretty uncommon for us to fail a ride, though we do give lots of recommendations for improvements," Lockwood said. "If something strikes us as an immediate concern, we'll stay onsite to make sure it's addressed before that ride reopens."

Incidents of ride-related injuries remain low in New Hampshire, though they do happen from time to time.

According to statistics provided by the Amusement Safety Organization, there were three injury incidents at Canobie Lake Park last summer, where three park guests reported suffering back injuries after riding the Yankee Cannonball roller coaster.

Riders under 4 feet tall aren't permitted on the Cannonball, and posted park restrictions state that guests that are "extremely large or small, have a history of heart, back or neck trouble or recent surgery, expectant mothers, guests with casts, braces, restrictive devices or disabilities may be affected by the requirements needed to ensure these systems operate properly."

In September 2009, a teenage girl was injured after falling from the Remix II ride at the Rochester Fair. Fiesta Shows operated the ride, which features several moving arms with chairs at the ends.

Further inspections revealed the girl slipped from underneath her seat's overhead restraint — since the incident the ride has been fitted with new safety rails to close the gap between the side rail and overhead restraint.

Still, the majority of the time accidents can be avoided by simply following the rules, Lockwood said.

"We often see behavior issues on the passenger's part," he added.

When asked how the recent tragedy at Six Flags Over Texas might influence New Hampshire's current safety practices, Lockwood said, "It's definitely a concern, though I don't think we'll have any knee-jerk reactions."

He added, "We do have certain devices on our radar and we try and keep our ears to the ground. It's up to us to track trends to make sure any devices that have proven a concern get our immediate attention, which we give to the best of our ability."

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