Girl, 11, Dies in Fall from Ferris Wheel in Wildwood

12:12 AM, Jun. 4, 2011 | WILDWOOD — A class trip turned to tragedy Friday when an 11-year-old girl plunged to her death from a Ferris wheel at a popular boardwalk amusement park. The victim, Abiah Jones of Pleasantville, fell about 100 feet from The Giant Wheel, a landmark attraction at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, police said. The girl fell from the moving Ferris wheel around 12:30 p.m. and was pronounced dead about an hour later. Police said Abiah was at the park with classmates and chaperons from PleasanTech Academy, a charter school in Pleasantville. “The exact cause of the incident has not been determined, but at this time does not appear to be mechanical or operational in nature,” a statement from Morey’s Piers said. “The incident is under investigation by the appropriate authorities.” “On behalf of the Morey family and staff, I offer our sincerest thoughts and prayers to the family,” said Will Morey, the company’s president. The Giant Wheel passed an annual state inspection March 17, said Hollie Gilroy, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Community Affairs. The agency regulates carnival and amusement rides in the state. Friday afternoon, the 156-foot-high wheel, which is one of the tallest on the East Coast, was sealed off by black-and-yellow police tape that fluttered in the sea breeze. It will remain idle until state inspectors determine it can operate safely, Gilroy said. Wildwood police and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office also are investigating the incident. Administrators at PleasanTech Academy could not be reached for comment. Morey said it appears Abiah was alone in a passenger gondola, which is secured with a double latch. The door of the car opens inward, he said. The girl, who landed in a passenger-loading area on the boardwalk near Schellenger Avenue, “was quickly removed from the scene and prepared for transport to a trauma center by (a) helicopter,” police said. But the helicopter was recalled because of the severity of her injuries, and Abiah was driven instead to a nearby hospital. Police photographed various gondolas on the Ferris wheel, part of which was covered in white sheets. Investigators were looking for witnesses to the fall. At the time of the accident, the park was packed with children attending a school-related event called “Education Extravaganza.” The rest of the park remained open until around 4 p.m., when it closed for the evening “out of respect for the family.” The park, with three amusement piers and two waterparks on more than 18 acres, is to reopen at its scheduled time today. Morey said the girl’s death was the first fatality for his family’s business, which began in 1968. Statistics for amusement-park accidents in New Jersey were not immediately available Friday. Two amusement-park visitors died in August 1999 in a roller-coaster crash at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on Ocean City’s boardwalk. State inspectors said faulty brakes and a poorly designed lap bar contributed to the deaths of Kimberly Bailey, 39, of Pomona, N.Y., and her 8-year-old daughter, Jessica. The state imposed $55,000 in fines after that incident. And five people were hurt at the Ocean City site when a log-flume ride malfunctioned in July 2007. An industry spokeswoman said the odds of being seriously injured at one of the United States’ 400 fixed-site amusement parks are 1-in-9 million. About 280 million people visit those parks each year, taking 1.7 billion rides, according to Colleen Mangone of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the young guest,” she said. “Events like this are extremely rare, and safety is the number one priority for the amusement park industry.” The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach Jim Walsh at (856) 486-2646 or jwalsh@gannett.com

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