Hoots, hollers make untamed return on Wild Thing

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 1, 2006 - 9:31 PM

The Valleyfair roller coaster is back in action after being shut down following a brake accident.

The Wild Thing roller coaster at Valleyfair approached its first dive, about a 200-foot drop. Tip Harrison, the man responsible for its mechanical operation, sat relaxed in the last seat Thursday, wind whipping through his hair and moustache while passengers screamed in front of him.

For him and other park officials, the screams were sweet music.

Wild Thing was up and running again, 11 days after the Shakopee amusement park's signature roller coaster was closed after a brake accident that mildly injured 18 riders, 15 of whom went to the hospital.

On Thursday, Wild Thing had no shortage of passengers. On the heels of intense scrutiny and inspection since the accident, many who rode said they felt the coaster was probably safer than it's ever been.

David Duea, an eighth-grader from Hastings Middle School, said he thought about the accident a little as the coaster climbed its first hill, but once it started rushing down, he let his cares go. "It's only one time that [an accident] happened in all those runs," he reasoned. "They wouldn't have opened it if they knew it was unsafe."

Kim Kennealy, a Hastings Middle School math teacher chaperoning students, offered a similar assessment: "They've looked at every bolt. ... It's probably the safest time to ride."

An investigation team, including park officials, the ride manufacturer and two engineering firms, determined last week that the accident happened when a mounting bracket attaching giant brake pads to the track malfunctioned.

Since then, each of the 22 brakes in the ride's slow-down area was removed, disassembled, inspected and tested, park officials said.

They aren't sure which brackets might have failed because several ended up damaged in the accident, Harrison said. Though they have their suspicions about the failure, he said, they aren't getting into details.

It doesn't matter anyway, he said, because the team didn't focus on finding the exact cause but instead tried to check and correct all possible causes. They also re-examined those possible causes on other coasters with the same brakes -- the Corkscrew and Excalibur.

Harrison said that he was still having difficulty coming to terms with the accident. Valleyfair helped build parts of Wild Thing, he said, and he knows every piece of it inside and out. It has performed well since it opened 10 years ago, he said.

Coming off of his fourth ride of the day, Harrison said he never tires of riding. "It's in great shape ... fast and smooth," he said.

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