I-Team: Vortex ride had previous problems

Given what ABC11 has been hearing from fairgoers, there were numerous accounts of problems with the Vortex.
October 25, 2013 3:54:35 PM PDT
State officials are saying the first time they heard about a problem with the Vortex was on Monday when a restraining bar was stuck. It may not have been the last time.

Given what ABC11 has been hearing from fairgoers, there were numerous accounts of problems with the ride in the days and hours before the accident that injured five people.

"Turned out to be a switch that was bad," said ride inspector Tom Chambers. "We checked it, repaired it and the ride went back into operation."

Chambers defended the decision to open the Vortex to the ABC11 I-Team after what's called a cellinoid switch caused problems with a safety harness on Monday.

Officials won't say if other complaints came in, but that doesn't mean there wasn't cause for them.

A half-dozen emails came into the ABC11 newsroom Friday with people tell us about problems they saw with the ride.

The earliest came on Wednesday, which was the day before the accident.

The ride wasn't working and was evacuated, but as people got off of it, it restarted suddenly.  It's an account disturbingly similar to what appears to have happened Thursday night.  

Other emails describe problems noticed just hours before the accident. One woman said around 9 p.m. that she saw the ride smoking.

Another told us about a stuck restraint bar that released suddenly, hitting the operator in the head.

A fourth viewer again said they were having problems with the restraint bars.

"The bars on the left seemed to be working but the bars on the right just wouldn't come down," said Ken Vrana.

Vrana said he watched as three ride operators struggled with the restraint bars for 15 minutes. They finally jammed them in place, and started the ride.  Vrana says that was 45 minutes before the accident.

"When that thing started acting up, you shut it off and you keep it shut off until it's fixed," said Vrana.

The I-Team reached out to the company that owns the Vortex, but we have not heard back.

The Vortex happened to be the last ride installed and inspected when the fair began.

We've requested the inspection records for the ride. So far, we haven't gotten them.

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