Rescue crews praised after accident on Gatlinburg roller coaster


GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE)– The Gatlinburg Fire Chief commended the rescue efforts of his crews Thursday, when talking about the mountain coaster incident from earlier in the week.

Chief Charlie Cole said his crews were called to the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster Monday night for reports of a “fall injury.”

“So when it came in as a fall injury, we responded with an ambulance and a rescue truck,” Cole said.

Cole said it wasn’t easy for his crews to get to the injured rider, however, the type of rescue on steep terrain was in their wheelhouse.

“Our guys is very experienced in rough terrain up here. And you know, we, I talked to the guys, it was something that they were used to doing quite frequent,” Cole said.

Cole said his crews had to use a stokes basket to get the rider down from there they fell.

He didn’t know exactly where the rider ended up–he wasn’t on the call himself. But, his crews reported they didn’t need to rope the rider down, just carry him.

“We secure it, the patient, inside of a stokes basket, and we were able to lower the patient and move the patient and carry him down to the ambulance, from the location of the incident,” Cole said.

Cole said off the top of his head, he didn’t know of any similar calls to other attractions in recent years. However, according to state records, there have been two other incidents reported at Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster.

The first incident on record was in July 2016.

According to the accident report from the coaster company, a (believed to be) husband and wife were riding as double-passengers, with the wife sitting in the front.

The wife was ejected from the cart.

According to the report, the couple was coming into the end of the ride at full speed, despite a sound repeater system saying “pull back on your handles and slow down.”

The report stated, “looking at the video, he did not let up on the handle during the whole incident, including during his wife’s ejection.”

The ride employees also had reason to believe the wife was not wearing her safety belt, nor was her safety restraint checked before leaving the station.

The front passenger sustained multiple fractures on her wrists, knee caps and left elbow; trauma to the head and left eye; and possible broken ribs.

Another incident occurred in September 2017.

According to that report sent in from the coaster company, a grandmother and grandson were riding in separate carts (known as alpine sleds); the grandmother trailing behind the grandson.

The report stated the riders were sent up the track with “greater length/distance than is required by manufacturer guidelines to ensure patron safety.”

Despite that distance, the grandmother ended up crashing into her grandson’s sled in front of her.

The report stated: “Video and photos show that grandson was stopping along the track (which is a direct violation of patron instruction). Video and photos show that grandmother had her eyes shut during the ride, which prevented her from controlling the alpine cart appropriately and stopping the alpine cart prior to hitting the alpine cart of her grandson.”

The grandmother sustained a possible broken arm.

For this most recent incident, the report simply states a “rider flew out of cart while entering the curve just past the Kodak camera, striking the track and traveling approximately 10 ft out of cart.”

Cole said his crews were able to get to the rider out of the area in less than 30 minutes.

“We’re very accustomed to doing this type of rescue, no matter where it is,” Cole said.

WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to the owner of the Gatlinburg Mountain Coaster, but he declined to comment.

State records also show the coaster was last inspected July 23, 2020.

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