TAMPA — A University of South Florida football player was injured when he fell 35 feet from a ride while working at Busch Gardens on Saturday, according to team officials.
Maikon Bonani of Lake Wales, 20 and USF's starting kicker, was injured, USF football coach Jim Leavitt told the Times.
Busch Gardens officials confirmed the accident, involving the Skyride, but would not release the employee's name.
The accident occurred just before 3 p.m., according to a statement from theme park officials. It said that after sending a gondola out of the station, the Skyride attendant thought the door might be unlocked and held onto the door to check it. He held on for about 50 feet as the gondola took off, and he let go over the Jungala attraction — a 35 foot fall, the release said. There were passengers, but none was injured.
Busch Gardens representatives say the employee was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
Bonani was in fair conditon at St. Joseph's Hospital Saturday night, said nursing supervisor Janelle Hoskins.
Leavitt, who spoke to Bonani by phone and later visited him, said it was his understanding that Bonani had injured his T12 vertebra.
"He's fine. The main thing here is that he didn't die," Leavitt said. "He isn't paralyzed. The most important thing is his health."
Tampa police were unaware of the accident and no report was made, said Lt. Dave Goodman, a spokesman for the department.
Busch Gardens spokeswoman Jill Revelle said standard procedure is to call for an ambulance if there is any sort of accident or injury and to call the police if there is any criminal aspect of the incident.
"We wouldn't call the police in a situation like (today's accident)," she said.
The Skyride consists of open gondolas that travel on a cable across the park, giving visitors aerial views of animals and other attractions. It runs across the park from the Crown Colony area to the Congo, according to Busch Gardens' Web site.
Bonani grew up in Brazil and moved with his family to Lake Wales in Polk County at age 11, where his father works at a citrus plant. He played his first game as USF's starting kicker in September against Kansas, and made a big impression. The then-freshman made a game-winning field goal as time expired to give the Bulls their biggest win of last season.
He learned English when he was 11. In high school he played football but also excelled in soccer and tennis. He became valedictorian of his senior class.
Leavitt said that if Bonani faced a long recovery, he could redshirt, or sit out a year from the football team, and still be able to play four years at USF. He had been expected to return for his sophomore year this fall as USF's primary kicker on field goals and extra points.
"He took a pretty good fall," Leavitt said. He said that the team's head trainer, Steve Walz, was at the hospital with Bonani Saturday night.
"Our entire program is praying for Maikon and happy that the injury was not life threatening," Leavitt said late Saturday in a statement. "He's in pain, but doing fine and resting."