MADISON, Wis. – A 12-year-old girl at an amusement park plunged more than 40 feet to the ground on Friday, seriously injuring herself when a safety net under a "free fall" attraction failed to catch her.
Police declined to identify the girl or to elaborate on her injuries, but said she was from out of state and was visiting the Wisconsin Dells with her family. The area is a popular Midwest tourist destination known for its amusement parks.
On its website, Extreme World amusement park describes its Terminal Velocity ride as a one-of-a-kind experience that offers an "unattached, controlled free fall." Participants are outfitted in a special harness, taken up in an elevator, and then dropped straight down into a "huge airtube supported net."
After the girl was released for her fall, "the net mechanism that was supposed to catch her and break her fall was not high enough above the ground to completely break the fall and she did hit the ground," Lake Delton Police Chief Thomas Dorner said.
Dorner said the girl was treated by amusement park employees and family before emergency responders arrived, around noon. She was eventually transported to the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison by helicopter. Dorner said details of her injuries were not available, and hospital spokeswoman Lisa Brunette said she could not share them.
Extreme World owner Bill Anderson said it was the first accident in the 8-year history of the ride, which will be closed while police and state regulators investigate the accident. He said Extreme World, which also operates bungee jumping and other attractions, was closed Friday but would reopen on Saturday.
Department of Commerce spokesman Tony Hozeny said the ride was inspected on June 28, and there were no violations found. He said the ride has been inspected every year since 2004, and there was only been one minor violation found in 2008, which was immediately fixed.
"We want to express our sympathy to this person who was injured," Hozeny said. "As soon as we learned of this accident, we sent an inspector on site who is still investigating the situation to find out the facts."
Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety consultant based in Richmond, Va., said nets have failed at least twice on similar rides elsewhere — once in July 2003 in California, and once in Florida in November 2002.
Dorner said the investigation by his department and the Sauk County Sheriff's Department also continues.
Extreme World promises riders on its website that air tubes and break suspensions around the net "stop your fall so softly that you feel virtually no impact at all." The company compares the sensation to a parachute jump.
Extreme World amusement park: http://www.extremeworld.com/