"When I saw them doing chest compressions, I knew it was bad," said Landwher, of Monroeville. "I knew they were trying to revive somebody and it wasn't going to happen."
Students in green shirts who appeared to be part of a group were stuck in the wheel's open-air gondolas while medics tended to Abiah, Landwher said.
The girl was pronounced dead at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Courthouse at 1:14 p.m., Wildwood police said.
Wildwood police and the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office were investigating the accident with members of the state Department of Community Affairs, which conducts annual inspections of amusement rides.
Like hundreds of other students around the region, Abiah was on a field trip to the park, authorities said. She was alone in one of the Ferris wheel's 40 cars when she fell out, Wildwood Commissioner of Public Safety Anthony Leonetti said.
It was unclear Friday night whether the ride had been in motion or how high Abiah was when she fell, he said.
The accident did not appear to be due to mechanical error, police and the amusement park company said.
The Giant Wheel, built in 1985, is among the tallest Ferris wheels on the East Coast. It last passed inspection March 17, said Hollie A. Gilroy, a spokeswoman with the Department of Community Affairs.
Employees check the rides several times a day, said Tim Samson, a Morey's spokesman. The gondolas have locking gates but no seat belts, he said.
"On behalf of the Morey family and staff, I offer our sincerest thoughts and prayers to the family," Will Morey, president and CEO of the Morey Organization, said in a statement.
An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 students swarmed the amusement pier Thursday and Friday during its annual Education Extravaganza, said Lindsey Young, a Morey's spokeswoman. For 17 years, the park has hosted the event for students from grades three to 12 to learn about ecology, peer leadership, and physics.
The accident was the first fatality of a patron in the history of the organization, Young added.
The trip to Morey's is a much-anticipated school pilgrimage, Haddon Township Superintendent Mark Raivetz said. More than 160 eighth graders from Haddon were at the park Friday.
"It is one thing our eighth graders have looked forward to," he said. "You know about this from the time you're in the first grade. It's one of those township traditions."
The district sent an e-mail to the school community Friday afternoon to allay parents' fears that their children had been injured.
"When you kiss your kids goodbye in the morning and say, 'You're going to have a wonderful, fun day,' this is the furthest thing from your mind," Raivetz said.
Police interviewed Haddon students who were near the Ferris wheel when the girl fell, Raivetz said.
Nicole Kramer, 12, a sixth-grader at Upper Township Middle School in Cape May County, said she and her classmates learned of Abiah's death on the bus ride home. A teacher asked for a moment of silence.
"I know three or four girls who saw it happen," Nicole said. "I was going to ride the Ferris wheel at the time it happened, but after, I was too scared. I was sobbing."
According to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council, the estimated annual number of amusement-ride-related injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086, or 0.6 per million patron rides.
Colleen Mangone, a spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, said the odds of being seriously injured at one of the United States' 400 fixed-site amusement parks were 1-in-9 million.
Morey's Piers, family owned since 1969, has more than 100 rides on 18 acres at the Shore. Its three amusement piers closed Friday afternoon and were scheduled to reopen Saturday morning.
Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or email@example.com.
This article contains information from Inquirier staff writers Rita Giordano, James Osborne, Amy S. Rosenberg, and Sam Wood, and from the Associated Press.