Investigators Seek Cause Of Ride Mishap It Was The Wildwood Attraction's First Accident. It Will Stay Closed Until Officials Finish Their Work.

Posted: June 30, 1998

WILDWOOD, N.J. — The twisting, looping Sea Serpent roller coaster sat motionless yesterday, closed while state investigators determine what caused the giant boardwalk amusement to malfunction Friday night and injure 14 riders.

``It was one of the scariest things I've ever experienced,'' said Sandy Magin of Winslow Township, whose 12-year-old son and his friend were among the 23 passengers aboard the coaster when it came to an abrupt halt. ``I knew something was very wrong, but I was powerless to help my son and his friend.''

Early indications were that a wheel might have come off a rear axle, causing the coaster to jerk to a stop as it was looping its red and yellow cars backward along the track midway through the ride, according to Will Morey, chief executive officer of the Morey Organization. The organization operates Mariner's Landing at Schellenger Avenue and the boardwalk, where the accident occurred about 9:15 Friday night.

Fourteen riders were taken to Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital after they were removed from the ride. Firefighters used rescue ladders to reach the passengers because they were stranded - some upside down - about 30 feet above the boardwalk, according to a witness.

All were treated at the hospital for cuts, bruises, and other minor injuries and were released, except for a 17-year-old girl who was transferred to Lehigh Valley Medical Center in Allentown.

The unidentified teen remains there in stable condition with a fractured tailbone, according to a New Jersey state official.

This is the first time there has been an accident on the 15-year-old ride, officials said.

Within 90 minutes of Friday's accident, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which oversees licensing and inspection of the state's 1,200 amusement rides, had dispatched an investigator to the scene.

On Saturday, two more investigators were brought in to check the ride and interview passengers, according to Christopher Wolf, a spokesman for department.

Wolf said the ride would remain closed until the department completes its investigation. No inspectors were at the accident scene yesterday, but they are expected to return later this week, he said.

``The purpose of our investigation is to determine what occurred as well as when the ride will be operational,'' Wolf said.

Morey said he has also brought in a group of independent, internationally recognized amusement-industry experts and representatives from the coaster's manufacturer to investigate for the company.

The New Jersey Department of Labor had been conducting inspections of amusements rides until a reorganization within various state departments passed the duties onto the Department of Community Affairs earlier this month, according to a state spokesman.

After a rash of amusement-ride injuries last summer at the Jersey Shore and a water-park fatality in North Jersey, the state stepped up its inspection process this year, adding more inspectors to the payroll and increasing penalties for operators and riders who do not follow safety guidelines.

But of the 24 injuries last summer, it was determined that only one, which occurred in Atlantic City, resulted from a problem with the operation of the amusement. All of the other injuries stemmed from unsafe behavior of the riders, according to state officials.

Depending on the complexity of a particular ride, state inspectors spend from one to 12 hours checking its structural and mechanical integrity before issuing an annual license to operate it.

While not all of the rides have been inspected for this season, operators are permitted to open them if they were licensed last year and operated without incident.

Another Morey Organization property was the scene of one of last year's accidents. A 9-year-old Erial boy sustained a jaw fracture and dental injuries when he fell from the Jet Star roller coaster on Morey's Pier in North Wildwood on July 20.

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