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Busch Gardens reviews safety procedures with employees after Skyride fall

TAMPA — Busch Gardens managers have reviewed safety and emergency procedures with attendants at the park's Skyride after an employee fell 35 feet from a gondola Saturday.

Maikon Bonani, a University of South Florida football player working at the park, was in fair condition Sunday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

"He's in good spirits," USF assistant athletic director Chris Freet said of Bonani, the Bulls' starting kicker. "I do not know when he's going to get out of the hospital."

It may be a couple of days before the team knows more about Bonani's prognosis, Freet said. USF football coach Jim Leavitt, who visited Bonani at the hospital, said he understood that the player injured his T12 vertebra.

Bonani, 20, of Lake Wales declined to talk to reporters through the hospital and USF.

The park has not named the employee involved in the accident, but said he clung to the gondola because he thought the door might be unlocked, Busch Gardens spokeswoman Jill Revelle said.

"He was trying to ensure the safety of our guests and make sure that the door was locked," Revelle said.

None of the three people in the gondola were hurt, and Revelle said she did not know if they tried to help the attendant as he dangled from the gondola. He fell after the gondola had moved about 50 feet, and he landed in a landscaped area near the Jungala attraction.

It was the first time in park employees' memory that anyone had fallen from the Skyride, Revelle said.

For decades, the Skyride has carried about 2,000 guests an hour over Busch Gardens, giving them aerial views of animals and their habitats.

Its highest point is a 49-foot-tall tower.

Employees are taught to hit an emergency stop button if there's a problem with the Skyride or if they have a concern about a gondola with guests inside. If the door is not locked on an empty gondola, then attendants are to call ahead to the next station and alert co-workers there of the problem.

Each station has at least two or three attendants who help load and unload the cars and who can stop the ride in case of a problem.

Revelle said she did not know whether the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration would investigate the accident. An OSHA spokesman could say Sunday only that the agency would check into the question.

But Revelle said the ride did not malfunction.

"Everything operated exactly as it should have," she said.

After the fall, which took place just before 3 p.m., the Skyride was stopped for the emergency for about 10 minutes. It was restarted so guests could get off, then stopped again while park employees investigated the incident.

The park restarted the Skyride again about an hour later. During that time, Busch Gardens managers talked to attendants about what happened, checked the ride to make sure it was running correctly and reviewed safety procedures.

Park employees receive safety training when they are hired and get regular followups, Revelle said.

"Training is an ongoing thing," she said. "It's not just when something happens."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 269-5311 or Danielson@sptimes.com.

Busch Gardens reviews safety procedures with employees after Skyride fall 07/19/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 19, 2009 9:43pm]
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