By Keith Gushard
SUMMIT TOWNSHIP —
Completing a ride on Conneaut Lake Park’s famed Blue Streak normally takes two minutes and 20 seconds, but on Saturday night 20 people were immobilized on the roller coaster between four and five hours.
A passenger car came to a halt on the crest of a hill of the wooden roller coaster around 9:10 p.m., necessitating a rescue operation by three volunteer fire departments.
What apparently caused the car to come to a stop was a piece of the car’s braking system engaged against one of the track rails, Chief Gig King of Summit Township Volunteer Fire Department said Sunday.
The ride is gravity based — after the car is towed to the top of the first hill via a chain within the track rails, the chain releases and the car uses momentum to complete the out-and-back circuit of the ride, King said.
The car came to a stop without lurching, stopping on the crest of one of the secondary hills.
“Nobody was hurt, but it took time to get everybody off safely,” King said.
April Hartle, a registered nurse at UPMC Northwest in Seneca, posted to the Tribune’s Facebook page on Sunday night, saying she and her husband were “stuck on it for hours.”
“Safety brakes locked us in place and we could not move,” Hartle wrote. “The park’s owner climbed up himself and talked us threw (sic) this. The firefighters took each and every person safely to the ground. It took awhile because all 20 of us had to climb down 50 feet.”
Initial emergency radio traffic said there was as many as 24 people onboard, but King confirmed the number at only 20.
Once arriving on the scene, firemen had to chain and strap the car in place so it wouldn’t slip when firemen helped people out of the ride one at a time, King said. It was about 2 a.m. Sunday before the last rescue units had cleared the scene.
“What took so long was we had to make sure it was safe first,” King said.
Firemen tried reaching the area where the roller coaster car was stuck with an aerial ladder truck, but the truck’s 65-foot ladder fell short of the car’s location.
“It was four to five hours before the last person was out and down,” King said. “We had to take people down one at a time via the catwalk (for the ride), but it’s so narrow. You couldn’t work easily and we put a safety harness on each person before we took them down.”
Compounding the problem for rescuers was Saturday night’s rain.
“It got very dangerous with the wet weather with the catwalk slippery,” King said. “Everything went well, though it took a lot of time. We owe a ‘thank you’ to everybody who helped. Everybody did a wonderful job.”
Conneaut Lake Park and Conneaut Lake volunteer fire departments and Conneaut Lake Area Ambulance Service assisted Summit Township.
The Blue Streak had been operating Saturday night as part of Ghost Lake 13 Levels of Fear, the park’s fall amusement program, according to Jack Moyers, chairman of Trustees of Conneaut Lake Park.
Mechanics are working to repair the ride and hope to have it back in operation for Friday night — the next time the amusement park will be open for Ghost Lake.
“We greatly appreciate the skill and care the firemen took in keeping everyone safe,” Moyers said. “We also appreciate the patience of the people who were on the ride.”
Moyers said the ride will be inspected before it’s put back in service.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
The Blue Streak, marking its 75th anniversary this year, is one of two wooden roller coasters by famed roller coaster designer Ed Vettel that still is operating in the United States.