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Two women and a boy were hurt after falling about 15 feet from a Ferris wheel in Port Townsend Thursday. One of the women improved from critical to serious condition Friday morning.
59-year-old Shawn Swartwood has injuries to her head, ankle, and foot, but is in good spirits said a family spokesperson. She is conscious and alert and Harborview Medical Center moved her out of the ICU Friday evening.
Her partner 47-year-old Crystal Groth and 7-year-old Mikhail Groth Swartwood are recovering at home.
The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries said Friday it was pulling the operator's permit to run that ride until whatever caused the accident can be resolved.
The incident happened around 6:30 p.m. at the Jefferson County Rhododendron Festival. According to East Jefferson Fire Rescue, the Ferris wheel was in operation when one of the bucket seats flipped over. The three riders fell about 15 feet and landed on a metal landing.
"It went all the way up, and as it started coming back down almost at the very top, the cart right above us started shaking," said Dusty Janke-Call, who was on the Ferris wheel in a bucket seat directly below the one that tipped over. "Right as I could say what's going on, it completely flipped over, the cart came down, and it hit my boyfriend in the head."
Janke-Call said she and her boyfriend heard a grinding noise right before the bucket tipped over. They also heard what sounded like a metal bolt breaking, and saw pieces of a broken bolt on the ground.
"When the other bucket hit us, I thought we were going to flip over as well. When I saw the first person hit the ground, I just grabbed my two-year-old and closed my eyes, and I didn't know if they were dead or alive or if we were going to fall," she said.
Janke-Call said they were stuck in the air on top of the Ferris wheel for about 30 minutes after the incident. Her boyfriend went to Jefferson Healthcare Hospital afterward, to have his head checked out. He is expected to be okay.
The riders who fell - a 59-year-old woman, a 47-year-old woman, and a 7-year-old boy - were taken to hospitals.
The 59-year-old woman was air lifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she was upgraded from critical to serious condition Friday.
The other two patients suffered non-life threatening injuries and were transported to Jefferson Healthcare Hospital in Port Townsend to be evaluated. Both patients were released late Thursday night.
Janke-Call said it was a terrifying experience, but she also believes it could have been even worse had it not been for the heroic actions of one of the victims.
"I don't know which one it was; I think the women in her 40s, completely saved the little boy's life. She grabbed him just in time and let him fall on top of her," she said.
The Department of Labor and Industries said it would not be at the scene investigating Friday as first believed. Spokesman Tim Church said L&I will determine if the company had proper permits, but because a worker was not injured, L&I takes a lesser role. Church said insurance companies will do the bulk of the investigation along with local law enforcement.
But L&I did revoke Funtastic's permit to operate that ride until the problem is resolved and the state does another inspection.
By law, all amusement rides in the state must be inspected at least once a year for mechanical and electrical safety. Electrical inspections are also required each time a ride is set up. Private amusement ride inspectors do annual safety inspections.
The Ferris wheel involved was operated by Funtastic Traveling Shows. The Oregon-based company runs carnivals through the Northwest.
Festival officials released the following statement Thursday night:
First and foremost the Rhododendron Festival would like to ask for everyone to please pray for all the victims in today's carnival accident. This was a tragic event and our thoughts and prayers are with all involved. At this time we are letting the Port Townsend Police Department, East Jefferson Fire and Rescue and Funtastic Traveling Shows (which the carnival is owned and operated by) conduct their investigations. Any detailed inquiries regarding the incident need to be directed to the above mentioned agencies. Thank you to all the volunteers and employees that stepped up out of the crowd to make sure the victims were attended to and the incident was controlled. Once again please keep the victims and their families in your prayers.
Brandi Hamon and Debbie LaFollette
Vice President and President of the Rhododendron Festival
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