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State regulators: Ride operators failed to properly check seatbelt of Colorado Springs girl who died at Glenwood Caverns

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's (CDLE) Division of Oil and Public Safety (OPS) said its investigation into what led to the death of 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos of Colorado Springs found multiple errors by ride operators.

Estifanos died on Labor Day weekend after riding the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Garfield County. The Haunted Mine Drop is a drop tower-style ride, six passengers drop 110 feet into a dim shift in the ground.

To ride the Haunted Mine Drop, participants must sign a waiver. For individuals younger than 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign for them.

OPS says the deadly accident resulted from multiple operator errors; specifically:

  • Lack of procedures
  • Inadequate training
  • More than one operator taking responsibility of a ride during a ride cycle
  • The restraint system involved

The Attractions Trainer said while there are no specific requirements for unoccupied seatbelts between ride cycles, OPS observed in surveillance video workers not involved with the accident unbuckling and moving seatbelts from unoccupied seats. All seatbelts for the ride were pulled away from the seat ad laid alongside to leave the seats cleared before new passengers

Additionally, operators would remove rods from the restraint block on unoccupied seats before allowing passengers to enter the ride.

According to the accident investigation report, leading up to the incident a ride operator referred to as Operator 1 inconsistently removed unused seatbelts and rods. Also, several passengers tried fastening their seatbelts, which is not allowed, and operators did not try and stop them.

Before the accident, seat #3, the one Estifanos sat in, was unoccupied. However, Operator 1 did not remove the seatbelts and they remained locked on the seat.

When Estifanos got into the seat, she sat on top of the buckled seatbelt and put the tail of the seatbelt across her lap. Operator 1 didn't notice Estifanos was only holding the seatbelt and wasn't fastened in.

After failing to realize Estifanos wasn't restrained, Operator 1 went to the control room and saw an error preventing the ride to move.

According to OPS, training for Operator 1 and a second ride operator referred to as Operator 2 did not appear to include reviewing the manufacturer's operating manual. Due to the lack of their complete understanding of the control panel Human Machine Interface (HMI), both operators were not equipped to operate and dispatch the ride.

OPS says the lack of understanding caused Operator 1 to misinterpret what error the HMI showed. According to OPS, the HMI screen showed an error on seat #3, Estifano's seat, not being cycled. Per the manufacturer's manual, this meant the rod was not removed from the restraining block after the previous ride cycle.

Operator 1 returned multiple times to check the rods on all seats. When interviewed, Operator 1 told OPS they did not believe the error because they were convinced the restraint had been cycled and that the issue was improperly inserted rods.

After arriving, OPS said Operator 2 unlocked the restraining block using the manual Restraint Release Selector Switch, then removed all rods from the restraining block next to the seats and immediately reinserted them. OPS said Operator 2 also did not understand the error was not the rods, it was Estifanos not being secured.

From there, OPS said Operator 2 checked seatbelts again and failed to notice Estifanos was only holding her seatbelt.

Operators 1 and 2 returned to the control room. Due to manually removing the rods, the HMI screen no longer showed errors and Operator 2 began the ride.

Through the investigation, OPS found the HMI showed the correct error but the operators weren't trained to understand the warning.

OPS said multiple operators making decisions and participating at different steps within the ride cycle were "unusual" and took away from passenger safety.

The Haunted Mine Drop will stay closed until regulators permit the ride for operation again, which requires addressing the factors that caused the operator error and a certificate of inspection to be submitted, according to CDLE.

This investigation did identify violations of the Colorado Amusement Rides and Device Regulations, and state regulators say enforcement action is coming.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park released a statement to 13 Investigates in response to the findings of the state's investigation.

The owners, management and entire Glenwood Caverns family are heart-broken by the tragic accident that occurred here on September 5. There is no way we can imagine the pain of loss that the Estifanos family and their friends are experiencing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.

Safety is, and always has been, our top priority. Since opening our first ride just over 15 years ago, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has delivered more than 10 million safe and enjoyable rides.

We have been working closely with Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety and independent safety experts to review this incident. Earlier today, we received the state’s final report and will review it carefully for recommendations. 

More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply sorry we are for their loss and how committed we are to making sure it never happens again.

Steve Beckley, Founder 
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park 

Officials from the amusement park also told 13 Investigates the future of the Haunted Mine Drop is undetermined.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Article Topic Follows: Local News

Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is an investigative reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.

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