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Thursday, April 21, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Teen, cousin suffer night of Insanity

Stuck on thrill ride at Stratosphere, pair dangled above Strip


Eighteen-year-old Erica McKinnon, right, and her 11-year-old cousin, Gabriella Cecineros, were stuck on the Stratosphere's Insanity ride for more than an hour Wednesday morning.
Photo by John Locher.

The green arm of the Insanity ride is seen Wednesday atop the Stratosphere tower. High winds caused the ride to shut down, stranding two girls 900 feet in the air Wednesday morning.

A teenager and her 11-year-old cousin were stranded on the Insanity thrill ride atop the Stratosphere on Las Vegas Boulevard for 80 minutes Wednesday morning.

Amid high winds and low temperatures, Erica McKinnon and Gabriella Cecineros huddled in space, their seat suspended 64 feet from the Stratosphere observation deck and 906 feet above the Strip.

"It was about the scariest thing I've ever experienced in my life," said McKinnon, a Valley High School graduate.

"I was trying to make phone calls while I was up there with my cell phone. I talked to my dad. I talked to 911. I thought, 'This is it,' " she said late Wednesday.

Stratosphere officials attributed the problem to winds that reached 61 mph shortly before 1 a.m. They said the ride is programmed to shut down in such conditions.

Ride workers waited for the winds to subside. When they did not, McKinnon said, a worker crawled out on the arm of the ride and attached a chain. "Then they pulled us in," she said.

Stratosphere spokesman Randall Fine said Insanity is safe.

"The ride didn't malfunction last night. It worked exactly as it should," Fine said. "Nothing broke."

McKinnon and Cecineros were stuck on the final scheduled ride of the night.

Insanity opened at its usual 10 a.m. starting time Wednesday. But the ride was shut down about two hours later at the request of the Las Vegas Building and Safety Department.

City officials asked the Stratosphere not to operate the ride until the property provides letters attesting to the ride's safety.

Among those the city wants to pen letters are the company that built the ride and another company that performs safety inspections of amusement rides.

The ride, which dangles and spins passengers above the ground, will remain closed until all of the letters are filed.

McKinnon, 18, and Cecineros, 11, had gone out for a late dinner and shopping before taking an elevator to the observation deck to try out Insanity. The thrill ride opened March 10.

McKinnon said winds were blowing "pretty hard" at 12:45 a.m., when a lap-restraint bar secured her and her 11-year-old cousin in their seat.

At some point in the three-minute ride, the giant green-and-purple mechanical arm that extends passengers 64 feet from the Stratosphere observation deck stopped suddenly.

The longer they sat waiting to be rescued, the stronger the wind blew.

At 1:36 a.m., winds near the top of the Stratosphere were clocked at 61 mph, a Stratosphere spokesman said.

Fine said an unexpected spike in wind speed caused the ride to go automatically into a pause mode and stay that way while a sustained wind blew at some 50 mph.

McKinnon said she was puzzled that no one gave them instructions while hotel emergency workers arrived at the scene.

"I was expecting they would tell us exactly what to do. There was this guy doing sign language. I could hardly hear," she said.

"Workers in the booth were laughing at us," McKinnon said.

When the ordeal ended at 2:05 a.m., Stratosphere staffers gave McKinnon and Cecineros blankets and cups of hot chocolate.

"They said they'd give us a free year's pass for the ride, and I said, 'That's OK. I don't think I'll go on the ride again,' " McKinnon said.

By the time fire officials were contacted, "they were already down," said Las Vegas Fire and Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski. "Metro called us and said, 'Are you aware there are a couple girls stuck on the Stratosphere?' "

He said Stratosphere officials must have felt they had the situation under control. "There's not a law they have to notify us," he said.


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