66 riders safely evacuated after 400-foot Ferris wheel stops

The largest Ferris wheel on the East Coast reopened Saturday, one day after 66 riders were stranded on The Orlando Eye and had to be evacuated from the towering 400-foot attraction.

“The team of technicians has successfully completed the necessary work to resolve the technical default that occurred yesterday within the system that monitors the wheel’s position,” spokeswoman Dipika Joshi told the Orlando Sentinel

No one was hurt in the Friday afternoon stoppage and all were taken off in an operation lasting about three hours with help from firefighters. Orange County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy said the attraction, which is billed by operators as the largest observation wheel on the East Coast, had initially stopped for more than 45 minutes on Friday.

One rider identified as Makayla Bell by the newspaper tweeted “yes we finally started moving!” once the evacuation operation began. Later she added, according to the paper, “Man does it feel good to be on the ground.”

Power was restored via a backup generator and a technical team at the attraction, backed by firefighters, carried out the task of removing riders from the enclosed capsules after each was brought down to the platform, officials said.

Six elite rescue climbers with the fire rescue squad were dispatched but weren’t needed, Kennedy said.

Andrea Alava, a public relations manager for The Orlando Eye, said the attraction shut down Friday as a safety precaution before the technical team went to a backup operation.

Merlin Entertainments PLC owns the attraction and a similar 442-foot observation wheel in Britain, The London Eye, she said.

At approximately 3:45 p.m., the operating systems for the Orlando Eye indicated a technical default with the system that monitors the wheel position of the Orlando Eye. As a safety precaution, the attraction is designed to automatically shut down if communication with this system is interrupted,” Alava said in an emailed statement.

“Immediately following the default, the operations team began working to resolve the matter to allow guests to disembark the attraction. A backup system was employed that allowed capsules to be moved to the platform and opened manually,” the statement added.

The statement said Eye representatives kept up two-way visual and audio communication with the riders “to ensure their safety and comfort” and that their priority was to ensure they safely disembarked.

The attraction’s website said the 400-foot wheel features fully enclosed and air-conditioned capsules and “provides breathtaking views of Central Florida” including the Orlando skyline, nearby theme parks and the Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s distant Atlantic coast on clear days.

A fact sheet Alava provided said the The Orlando Eye rotates at 1 mph and has 30 air-conditioned capsules, each able to hold up to 15 people. Ticket-holders who missed their attendance slots Friday or Saturday morning can have their tickets honored for the next 30 days, reports said.

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