Stratosphere Ride Running Again - Fair GM First Passenger
A high-swinging ride at the Minnesota State Fair that has had numerous issues causing it to shut down is running again. And in a show of confidence in the ride, State Fair General Manager Jerry Hammer was one of the first to ride, according to a fair spokeswoman. Hammer's ride happened around 8pm on Saturday night.
Four times in two days. That's how often Minnesota State Fair officials now say the Stratosphere ride had been broken down.
Despite the repeated problems, officials have insisted all along it's safe.
Fair officials say the Stratosphere stopped once Thursday due to a mechanical problem, twice Thursday night due to wind, and then once again Friday afternoon due what inspectors believe will end up being an electrical issue.
Late Friday they were still trying to figure out the exact cause.
They're waiting on the advice and instruction of the ride's manufacturer--overseas in Holland.
"They're right there," said Brian Bode of Rosemount Friday afternoon, pointing to his girlfriend, and his kids. Feet dangling, thumbs twiddling, they were held hostage on the Stratosphere for about 45 minutes. "They figured they were safe today," he said, thinking that there was no way the ride could malfunction two days in a row.
But they were wrong.
A crowd of bystanders broke out into applause when the stranded riders were finally brought to the ground safely. The ambulances standing by weren't needed.
"Did we beat yesterday's record?" Brian's girlfriend Ann asked him as they embraced. The answer was yes--the group left hanging on Thursday was in the air only about 20 minutes.
"It's all good now," Ann said, giving Brian a kiss.
But when the Bode family learned the Stratosphere had malfunctioned two times earlier this summer at the Wisconsin State Fair, "that tells me this ride should not be operating," Brian said.
"Is it unsafe? Absolutely not," said Joe Bixler, the the man in charge of inspecting all 77 rides at the state fair. The fair contracts with Bixler, who is an independent contractor with International Leisure Consulting. He says Minnesota law requires all traveling amusement rides be inspected once a year, and once again before each installation at places like the fair.
"And typically those inspections are based on whatever the manufacturer's criteria is," Bixler added. "So you have a list of things you're supposed to inspect on the amusement ride, tests etc."
Those results are then submitted to the state but it isn't required to keep inspection records, according to James Honerman, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. The burden of ride safety is instead on the ride's owner.
In this case of the Stratosphere, it's owned by Michigan-based McDonagh Amusements. Owner Tom McDonagh was at the fair all day Friday working with Bixler to ascertain the most recent problem. He told 5 Eyewitness News he bought the 2-year-old Stratosphere in Holland and shipped it over to the U.S. on a boat. He also owns two other rides at the fair: the Sky Wheel and the Fun Factory.
According to Bixler, the Fun Factory also stopped working at the Wisconsin State Fair--twice.
The State Fair is also required to make sure there's proper insurance on each ride, in case of an accident.
All 77 rides at the fair are run and tested three times, without people on them, at the start of every day.
And fair officials say to keep the Stratosphere's problems in perspective, every year at least a dozen rides at the fair break down or don't work properly at one point or another.
As for the future of the Stratosphere, "We're gonna make the corrections and the ride will be running at this fair," Bixler promised.
Just not with Brian Bode's family on it. "We're done with this," he said.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS REPORTER Mark Saxenmeyer contributed to this report, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org