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State investigating slingshot ride malfunction that injured man

Devin Kelly

State authorities are investigating the malfunction of a slingshot-style amusement park ride in an Anchorage parking lot late last week, which police said left one person with serious facial injuries.

Called the Ejection Seat, the ride catapults two people at a time into the air. It was set up this spring in the parking lot of the Crazy Horse Saloon across from Sullivan Arena.

About 8:45 p.m. Friday, Anchorage police and fire officials responded to a report that the ride had malfunctioned and people were trapped above ground.

According to police, a safety mechanism appeared to have failed and one of the two seats disconnected, said spokeswoman Anita Shell. The man riding in the seat struck the ride's framework, suffering severe facial injuries, she said.

The other man on the ride was not injured because his seat was secured properly, but it became tangled in the ride's cables, Shell said.

At first, both men were suspended 50 feet in the air, Shell said. But when the Anchorage Fire Department freed the injured man, the other man's seat jumped up another 20 feet and he was trapped for 45 minutes, Shell said. A second fire truck ladder had to be deployed to extricate him.

On Wednesday, officials said the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development's mechanical inspection section had opened an investigation into the incident.

"We'll try to determine human fault, mechanical fault," said Al Nagel, program manager and acting director with the mechanical inspection section. "At this point, I'm not even going to guess."

With only a small pool of carnival ride operators in Alaska, the state does not employ its own ride inspector, Nagel said. That task will fall on a private, independent inspector from the Lower 48.

"Before it goes back into operation, it'll be re-inspected," Nagel said.

The Ejection Seat was being operated by a business called Thrills Unlimited LLC, authorities said. Attempts to reach the owners for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

For any amusement ride accident resulting in an injury or death, Alaska law requires the operator to provide a written report within 48 hours. Nagel said the operator of the ride properly gave notice to his department about the accident.

He also said the ride had been inspected in recent years and there were no signs the operator ignored issues.

"The maintenance items that inspectors identified in the past, they've taken care of," Nagel said.

The Ejection Seat was built in 1994, Nagel said, and has been in Alaska since 2004, appearing at the Alaska State Fair and in Midtown Anchorage.

Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.