Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina State Fair midway ride where five people were injured late Thursday needed repairs three days earlier when a switch failed, officials said Friday.
The Vortex will remain shut down for the rest of the fair, spokesman Brian Long said, as investigators try to determine what led to the mishap.
The victims range in age from 14 to 39 and included a ride operator, officials said. Two were treated at WakeMed in Raleigh and released, but the conditions of the three people who remain in the hospital and the types of injuries they suffered haven't been released.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said the injured have requested privacy, so he didn't identify them.
Investigators haven't determined what caused the accident, and Harrison said it could be days before they finish talking to witnesses, from people who were on the ride to spectators to nearby midway workers.
Inspectors plan to examine every part of the Vortex, said Tom Chambers, who heads the state Department of Labor division that inspects amusement rides at the State Fair.
On Monday, Chambers said, a switch that locks riders in their seats failed on the ride, and it was shut down. After the operators repaired the switch, state inspectors examined it and found it to be working fine, so the ride resumed operation.
Chambers said it's too early to tell if something similar occurred Thursday or if the ride had a different malfunction.
According to a description of the ride, the main arm is hydraulically lifted to a 30-degree angle, and the V-shaped center of the ride starts rotating while car arms on each side spin, twirl and flip passengers upside down.
Long said there are two rides on the midway with the Vortex name. The one where the accident occurred hasn't previously been at the fair, he said, and the two rides operate differently and have different manufacturers.
Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler called the accident "an isolated incident," and he and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry tried to assure people that all other midway rides are safe.
"If my children were here, I would put them on it," Berry said, noting that her agency's inspectors spent more than two weeks before the fair opened examining each of the 107 rides to ensure they met manufacturer specifications.
"They've been gone over thoroughly – thoroughly – for all the safety issues," she said.
Since the fair opened a week ago, ride operators have inspected each ride three times a day to make sure they continue to meet specifications, Chambers said.
State inspectors also walk the midway daily to make spot checks and ensure operators are loading and unloading riders properly and are paying attention when their rides are operating, he said. The state, however, relies on the midway operator, Powers Great American Midways, to train the operators.
Three other midway rides were also closed Friday as Wake County deputies blocked off the area around the Vortex.
Thursday night's accident isn't the first involving rides at the State Fair.
In 2002, a midway worker was thrown from a platform of a ride and killed when he was struck by the legs of a passenger on the ride. In 1998, three people were injured when a wheel-bearing seized on a roller coaster causing a rear-end collision between three cars.