Girl dies from Ferris wheel fall at NJ amusement park

A young girl has been critically injured in a fall from a Ferris wheel on the Wildwood boardwalk in New Jersey. (June 3)

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WILDWOOD, N.J. - A Jersey shore boardwalk amusement park that closed after an 11-year-old girl on a class trip tumbled from a moving Ferris wheel to her death was to reopen Saturday while investigators tried to figure out what caused her fall.

Abiah Jones was with her classmates from Pleasant Tech Academy on Friday afternoon when she plunged about 100 feet, from near the top of the ride, and landed in the passenger loading area, police and amusement park officials said. A medical helicopter was called for, but paramedics at the scene, seeing how grave her injuries were, decided not to wait for it and took her by ambulance to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead about 45 minutes later.

The popular park, Morey's Mariner's Landing Pier in Wildwood, was packed with children attending a special school-related promotional event called Education Extravaganza.

Police took photographs of various passenger carts on the Ferris wheel, part of which was covered in white sheets, and were looking for witnesses to the girl's fall.

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After closing the Ferris wheel and a few rides nearby but keeping the rest of the park open for a few hours, the amusement park's owners decided to close the park for the night. The park was due to reopen Saturday morning, but the Ferris wheel was to remain closed until the cause of the girl's fall is determined. The cause, however, didn't appear to be mechanical, police and Morey's said.

The 156-foot-tall Ferris wheel is among several rides at Morey's Mariner's Landing Pier. It was built in 1985 and most recently passed an inspection on March 17, said the state Department of Community Affairs, which was examining it and conducting an investigation into the girl's death.

Abiah's death was the first of a patron in the history of the Morey's organization, which has owned amusement parks at the Jersey shore since 1969, president Will Morey said.

"I'd like to say how sorry we are for the incident that occurred here," Morey said.

Police officers climb the Ferris wheel at Mariner' Landing Pier in Wildwood, N.J., where an 11-year-old girl fell to her death. (June 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City

It appears Abiah, of Pleasantville, was alone in one of the ride's passenger gondolas, which is secured with a double latch, Morey said. The door of the gondola opens inward, making it difficult to climb out of, he said.

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The spot where the girl's body landed in the passenger loading area of the ride led authorities to believe she fell from near the top of the ride because that's the trajectory she would have followed as she fell, Morey said.

According to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council, the estimated number of amusement ride-related injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086, or 0.6 per million patron rides.

A spokeswoman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions said the odds of being seriously injured at one of the United States' 400 fixed-site amusement parks are 1 in 9 million.

"Events like this are extremely rare, and safety is the No. 1 priority for the amusement park industry," association spokeswoman Colleen Mangone said.

Approximately 280 million guests visit those theme parks each year, taking 1.7 billion rides, she said.

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