Eyewitness describes horror of NC State Fair ride accident

jprice@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

— Manar Joudeh and three friends had already ridden the Vortex at the N.C. State Fair once Thursday night and were next in line for another whirl when the ride suddenly started moving after the safety restraints had been lifted from previous riders, before all of them could get off.

“People were getting off, and then I saw the ride starting up again, and people just started jumping off and everybody just running toward the exit sign,” said Joudeh, 18.

The two pods with 16 seats each started to spin faster and rise higher and higher. Within seconds, riders were jumping and falling all around her onto the metal platform.

An attendant had been going from seat to seat, lifting the safety restraints from people who had just finished a ride. Each rider had an individual pull-down bar in front of them, then a second bar that pulled down in front of each group of four riders, like a belt and suspenders.

When the ride started moving, the attendant was the first to jump clear. He reportedly suffered minor injuries. But Joudeh, a student at Wake Tech in business administration, didn’t see whether he was hurt.

“Then there were four of them that weren’t able to get off when it first started going higher,” she said. “One of them jumped, and three of them stayed on the ride, and it started going higher in the air.”

“One of the guys hung on, and couldn’t hang on any longer, and then the girl fell, and hit on her side, and there was blood everywhere,” Joudeh said. “There was a lot of blood. People tried to drag her out.”

The woman’s body was twisted, and she seemed to be bleeding from her leg, stomach and head.

Then Joudeh looked up again.

Seconds stretched out as the last rider, a man, struggled to hold on. The Vortex was spinning faster and faster, and his pod of 16 seats was swinging like a bell as it spun.

Everyone watched as it started to swing upside-down, maybe 20 feet over the hard metal platform.

“He was holding on, and it was like he was trying to get in his seat or stay in it as long as he could, but he just couldn’t hang on any longer,” she said.

His head seemed to hit part of the ride after he lost his grip, and that spun him so that he landed squarely on the back of his head, she said.

“I stood up to, I don’t know, maybe to try to catch the guy or something, I don’t know what I was doing, but he fell,” Joudeh said. “I looked at him, and he was unconscious, and the girl was unconscious, and there was another guy who was unconscious.

“And I just didn’t know what to do.”

People – including Joudeh – started screaming, but everyone screams on the midway. The people on and around the ride were in a bubble of their own horror, as thousands of people nearby kept on having fun.

The ride was still moving, but Joudeh didn’t see it coming down toward her.

“Someone grabbed my legs, each side, and dragged me out because the ride was coming back down, and it was like, two seconds from hitting me.”

Then she reacted without thinking.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I just went running, running, running. And then I saw the cops, and I literally snatched them by the jacket, and I said, ‘These people just got hurt on the ride, and there’s blood everywhere.’”

Joudeh wasn’t sure whether the officers were taking her seriously, but she didn’t hesitate.

“I just started running, and they ran after me, and they called more people; then everybody came,” she said.

Fair officials said later that emergency workers were able to get the injured onto ambulances and off the fairgrounds within 20 minutes.

Joudeh, a Cary High School graduate who lives in Raleigh, was left with a fair memory no one would want. But it could have been worse: Four of the 32 seats on the Vortex had been empty for the ride that went wrong, but she and her friends hung back at the request of the attendants, who wanted to build a larger group for the next whirl.

“There were four empty seats and four of us,” she said. “But they were like, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys go next ride?’”

Price: 919-829-4526

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