Power outage strands riders at North Carolina amusement park


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Utility crews worked Friday to replace a blown transformer blamed for a power outage that left people stranded on at least three rides at a theme park on the North Carolina-South Carolina state line.

Officials still don’t know what caused the failure at Carowinds just before 8 p.m. Thursday, Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne said Friday. First responders put out a fire and cleaned up several gallons of mineral oil that had spilled, said Layne, who noted that the inflammable oil is used as a coolant in power transformers. Workers were replacing the transformer and other equipment, she said.

The outage stranded passengers on several rides, but no one was hurt. Layne said those rides were connected to other transformers in the park power system and were affected when the transformer blew.

“When it failed, portions of the park last night did experience that brief blink,” Layne said.

It took about two hours to get people off WindSeeker, a 301-foot-tall ride meant to simulate flying. Riders in 32 two-passenger swings lift and rotate as they climb into the air.

On Thursday night, WindSeeker riders dangled hundreds of feet in the air for several hours as they waited for swings to be manually lowered to the ground. Josh Bryant, a 19-year-old rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, told The Associated Press that he, his girlfriend and her family got on the ride just after 7:30 p.m. and started to ascend and spin before the problems started.

“It sounded like pressure being released, within the ride, for a brief moment,” Bryant said, describing the moment when he knew something was wrong, high above the park. “And then it stopped.”

Most riders stayed calm, Bryant said. Several cellphone videos he made as night fell over Carowinds show parts of the park bathed in swaths of darkness, while neon lights shine from rides in other areas. At one point, the video pans over to the distance, where lights can be seen flashing from emergency vehicles.

Minutes, then hours, ticked by. Over loudspeakers, Bryant said park officials explained there had been a power problem and that riders would be lowered as soon as possible.

His girlfriend’s younger sister was worried, Bryant said. Another boy nearby put his shirt over his face. “He was really scared,” Bryant said.

Finally, after about two hours, Bryant said the swings started inching toward the ground, a process he said took about 45 minutes. Later, Bryant said a park employee told him they’d had to crank the ride down by hand.

“It was good, touching the ground,” said Bryant, adding that his foot fell asleep while suspended in the air.

There have been past problems with WindSeeker, which has been shut down several times since opening at Carowinds in 2012. In July of that year, 25 WindSeeker riders were suspended for nearly three hours when a safety system sensor malfunctioned. Later that year, Carowinds’ parent company temporarily shuttered all of its WindSeeker rides for a safety review after a similar incident at Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm.

In July 2013, 64 Carowinds WindSeeker riders were stranded above the park for more than an hour.

Several water park rides directly tied into the failed transformer remained closed Friday, but the rest of the park was operating on a normal schedule, said Carowinds spokeswoman Laresa Thompson.

Bryant said he’ll return to Carowinds but will be choosing another ride next time.

“I definitely won’t ride the WindSeeker anymore,” he said.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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