Eyes-only inspection didn’t see Ohio fair ride’s corrosion – USA TODAY
Ride manufacturer KMG said “excessive corrosion” of one of the Fire Ball’s support beams dangerously reduced its thickness, causing it to break apart.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — This state’s ride inspections aren’t designed to catch the type of damage its manufacturer said led to its catastrophic failure at the Ohio State Fair, killing an 18-year-old man and injuring seven others.
Ohio’s ride inspectors didn’t perform any in-depth testing, such as ultrasounds or X-rays, on the Fire Ball before it ripped apart July 26, sending passengers flying and killing 18-year-old U.S. Marine recruit Tyler Jarrell.
Inspectors from Ohio’s Department of Agriculture gave a visual examination only, which the ride passed with flying colors. What the inspectors didn’t catch: The ride had excessive corrosion that caused it to break apart, the manufacturer KMG, based in Neede, Netherlands, said last week.
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In fact, Ohio inspectors don’t give any ride the kinds of tests that would catch hidden corrosion, according to ride specialists.
Records from the Fire Ball inspection, completed hours before Jarrell was killed, indicated no signs of corrosion — if it indeed were present as KMG said. It’s unclear whether the corrosion KMG is blaming would be visible with the naked eye.
KMG could not be reached for comment Monday. On its website, the company lists 20 rides that it now manufactures; the Fire Ball is now sold as the Afterburner.
The 39-point state inspection — standard for rides on midways around the state — included opportunities to note structural concerns. But none were listed that day.
Instead, the state inspectors noted:
Visual appearance indicates proper assembly.
Visibly free of cracks or excessive wear.
No missing bolts or bolts of improper grade.
The report did not list the full names of the state inspectors.
If Ohio’s ride inspectors found nothing, who would have?
Testing such as X-rays and ultrasounds should be performed at least once a year on most rides, said Ken Martin, a Virginia-based ride consultant.
Just who should perform that testing isn’t standard from state to state.
In Ohio, state ride inspectors don’t do those kinds of tests. They do check that the ride’s operator — in this case, Amusements of America — has performed such testing to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Ohio Agriculture Department inspection reports since 2014 confirmed “nondestructive testing” was performed each year on the Fire Ball ride in question.
Most states handle this kind of testing the way Ohio does, Martin said.
Manufacturers set standards and timetables for testing their rides. They have no mandatory regulations to abide by.
Most states set their own rules, Martin said. But few have the resources to conduct nondestructive testing on their own.
“That’s where the safety system fails,” Martin said. “The amusement ride industry is self-regulated, and the amusement ride industry doesn’t want that to change.”
Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman Mark Bruce said the state could not confirm or deny KMG’s conclusion that corrosion was to blame for the ride’s demise. The Ohio State Highway Patrol still is investigating the accident.
Jarrell’s family has hired a lawyer to pursue a wrongful-death lawsuit.
While state officials went no further than the visual inspection, a Charleston, S.C., engineering firm that specializes in in-depth ride testing had cleared the 18-year-old ride in October. An ultrasonic examination found no defects with the gondola’s 24 pins, which keep the ride together, according to an inspection from Soil Consultants Inc.
Examiner Gale Mole also performed a visual inspection.
“No defects found,” Mole noted.
Calls to Soil Consultants were referred to Charleston lawyer Robert Hawk, who said the company was “in the process of reviewing all of their files” and would have no comment on their inspection of the ride until the review was completed.
Other in-depth testing inspections aren’t available because Ohio Agriculture Department isn’t required to keep copies of them and Amusements of America declined to provide them.
An Amusements of America spokesman said the company had nothing to add to KMG’s statement about what caused the accident. The company previously had said it didn’t find any indication of operator error.
KMG officials have told operators to shut down the Fire Ball ride worldwide until further testing is completed.
In a safety alert sent to all Fire Ball operators, the company advised midway companies to inspect the gondolas on all rides, including the thickness of the gondola support beam and any cracks and corrosion. The joints should undergo magnetic testing, according to the alert.