More than 2 dozen people stuck upside down for 30 minutes on AtmosFEAR ride in Oaks Park

More than two dozen people found themselves stuck in a perilous position for about half an hour when an “extreme” ride at Oaks amusement park malfunctioned Friday afternoon, spoiling opening day festivities .

Belted riders sat upside down when “AtmosFEAR” stopped at what park officials called its “maximum position” on the 360-degree setting. Photos posted on social media showed 28 dozen thrill-seekers hanging in their seats with their feet pointed toward the sky.

“I thought I was going to die,” said 17-year-old Daniel Allen. He was at the park celebrating his high school graduation.

As he waited in line for the ride for the first time, he said he reassured his friend, Jordan Harding, 18, that there was nothing to worry about. But when they were stuck in the air, he said he started crying, thinking about the people he would miss and the things in life he wouldn’t be able to do.

Riders are released and helped out of the AtmosFEAR ride at Oaks Amusement Park on June 14, 2024. The ride stopped and people remained upside down for about 30 minutes in the air before the ride was lowered. Authorities reported no serious injuries.

He and Harding hugged each other as they got off the ride. Allen said he also called his mother.

Oaks Park said in a statement that the ride became stuck around 2:55 p.m., that park staff called 911 and initiated unspecified emergency procedures and that rescuers from the Portland Fire Bureau arrived at 3:20 p.m. while the park was closed. A few minutes later, park maintenance workers put the AtmosFEAR back on the ground.

One person with pre-existing health conditions was taken to the hospital as a precaution and no one else was injured, authorities said.

The Southeast Portland park’s website describes AtmosFEAR as a “breathtaking extreme attraction” and one of the most popular. It’s two rides in one: a 180-degree pendulum ride or the “exaggerated thrill of the 360-degree ride,” according to the website.

A link to the ride states that it operates with “an up and down circling and swinging motion.” It swings people 50 feet in the air 180 degrees and 99 feet in the air 360 degrees with “full inversions.”

Illya Plaksey, 44, said most of the people stuck on the ride appeared to be Portland Public Schools students celebrating the last day of classes. At first, the runners seemed in good spirits, but as the minutes passed, he said he could hear the sounds of their phones and shoes dropping as one girl screamed for help! frantically.

“The staff was not prepared,” Plaksey said. “Eventually they announced that the park was closed because of everything that was going on. A few people (on the ride) really freaked out.

Vanita Ralstin said she called 911 while watching the ride and realized it had stopped moving. She heard the riders scream and then fall silent as they remained trapped.

Daniel Allen, 17, and Jordan Harding, 18, who were both on the AtmosFEAR ride when it malfunctioned at Oaks Park on June 14, 2024. “I thought I was going to die,” Allen said. He was at the park celebrating his high school graduation.

Plaksey said he and his 8-year-old son were still in the parking lot trying to leave as the ride quickly diminished. Several fire engines and at least three ambulances were on scene.

“When they fixed it, they were abruptly abandoned,” he said.

The cause of the apparent mechanical failure is unknown. The Oaks Park release said the ride has been operating since 2021 without incident to date. It will remain closed until further notice.

“Oaks Park Management was in immediate contact with the manufacturer and will work with the manufacturer and state inspectors to identify the cause of the shutdown,” the release said. It was noted that emergency training had taken place last year as standard procedure.

Oaks Park is Oregon’s oldest existing amusement park, opening two days before the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition on May 30, 1905. In addition to rides, it also offers mini golf, games of midway carnival and an indoor ice rink.

Oaks Park officials Friday evening thanked first responders, its staff and park visitors who gave way to rescuers — and “most importantly, we are grateful that the riders are safe and with their families.”

The park said it would offer refunds or rescheduling to people whose visit was cut short. Oaks Park officials asked people to keep their running wristbands on to help with the process. People can contact the Oaks Park administrative office at 503-233-5777 Monday through Friday or by email at info@oakspark.com, the release said.

—Zane Sparling covers breaking news and courts for The Oregonian/OregonLive. Contact him at 503-319-7083, zsparling@oregonian.com or @pdxzane.

— Fedor Zarkhin is a breaking and enterprise crime reporter. Contact him at 971-373-2905; fzarkhin@oregonian.

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