TRAVERSE CITY — A carnival ride gone haywire during the height of the National Cherry Festival was the stuff of nightmares for the passengers — and made for several viral online videos.
Editor's note: Video contains strong language. Special to the Record-Eagle/Reece O'Donnell
“We were walking by and saw the ride going faster than it normally does and then parts started breaking,” said Kobe Ramirez of Traverse City about his Thursday evening visit downtown.
He pulled out his smartphone and began to record video of the incident: the Magic Carpet Ride carnival attraction at the Arnold’s Amusements Midway began to spin out of control and the entire machine rocked back and forth.
“It was tipping back toward the river,” Ramirez said.
That’s when the ride operator switched off the power and jumped to safety; more than a dozen bystanders raced over to help him hang onto the unstable ride and use their collective weight to prevent it from wildly rocking, multiple videos show.
More carnival employees rushed in from across the midway to help, as well.
Widely shared online videos show how dangerous the situation was for both the carnival ride passengers and nearby witnesses.
“I think if they hadn’t been holding it, it would have fallen back,” Ramirez said. “They unplugged it so it was still moving and they had to wait for it to slow down.”
He said multiple parents stood by in horror as the carnival ride kept moving. Screams and screeches can be heard coming from both the ride and the ground below in the multiple online videos.
“They were just freaking out telling them to stop it, but they couldn’t stop the ride,” Ramirez said.
Fellow bystander Reece O’Donnell of Traverse City said those on the ride looked “very traumatized” by the incident. He also recorded video of the machine’s failure.
Authorities reported nobody was injured in the ride’s major malfunction, and follow-up investigation of the equipment was ordered by the maker.
“Obviously something went wrong with the ride,” said Traverse City Police Capt. Keith Gillis.
Carnival company officials said they want answers, too.
“We’re not sure exactly what happened,” said Joey Even, of Traverse City-based Arnold’s Amusements. “The ride came off the blocking.”
He said every seat was filled on the carnival ride when it malfunctioned. The ride operator killed the power to the computer-driven machine, but it’s not designed to immediately come to stop, Even said.
“Unfortunately that takes what seems like an eternity,” he said, particularly for the parents of those onboard the ride.
Traverse City Police helped company workers unload the passengers from the ride over the course of about 15 minutes, officials confirmed.
Even said that’s because the safety lap bars automatically locked into place when the power was cut. Electricity was reconnected only long enough for the computerized safety mechanism to release the locked lap bars, he said.
Festival officials said inspections of the rides happen daily and written reports are filled out and completed on each ride, every morning prior to operation.
“I am grateful for the quick response of staff and community members and very thankful that there were no injuries,” said Kat Paye, festival executive director.
Meanwhile, the machine was taken down and removed from the festival grounds overnight. The remaining carnival rides re-opened on schedule at 11 a.m. Friday.
“We did tear down the ride,” Even said, which he said was trucked back to the manufacturer’s factory in Ohio for inspection.
He also said this is the first time in the company’s 41-year history that something like this incident happened.
It was lucky so many bystanders raced in to help during the emergency, Even said, as they collectively tried to keep the machine from tipping altogether over.
“It just shows what kind of people live here in Traverse City to run over and help,” he said, underscoring they could have been putting themselves in harm’s way.
Arnold’s Amusements officials notified state authorities about the carnival ride incident late Thursday.
Records with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs showed the carnival ride that malfunctioned in Traverse City was last inspected in 2019 and the result was satisfactory, said Suzanne Thelen, LARA spokesperson.
“Rides with a satisfactory permit from the previous season are temporarily permitted to operate under their prior permit until their inspection in the current season,” she said via email. “There was no carnival season during the pandemic, and the ride was operating at the Cherry Festival on a temporary permit based upon the satisfactory previous inspection.”
Thelen confirmed there were no safety incidents linked to Arnold’s Amusements within the past five years of records.
She said Michigan has more than 300 amusement ride operators and LARA issues permits for more than 1,100 amusement rides. Inspections began in March this year and so far 585 inspections have been completed, she said.