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Coaster that derailed in Daytona Beach had reported safety issues in 2017

In this Thursday, June 14, 2018 photo Daytona Beach Fire Department personnel rescue riders from a roller coaster car that derailed in Daytona Beach. [Lola Gomez  | The Daytona Beach News-Journal via AP]
In this Thursday, June 14, 2018 photo Daytona Beach Fire Department personnel rescue riders from a roller coaster car that derailed in Daytona Beach. [Lola Gomez | The Daytona Beach News-Journal via AP]
Published Jun. 15, 2018

DAYTONA BEACH — Two roller coaster riders fell 34 feet (10 meters) when their car derailed and was left dangling from the track, and firefighters used ladders to pull eight others to safety high above the Daytona Beach Boardwalk.

"The front car which was holding four passengers completely came off the tracks," said Daytona Beach Fire spokeswoman Sasha Staton.

Two of the four fell from the Sand Blaster ride Thursday night and suffered traumatic injuries, while "the other two were still in the car dangling," she said.

Fire department photos show the red car hanging at an odd, perpendicular angle, with another car jammed behind it.

In videos posted on social media by witnesses, two people can be seen dangling from the car's seats and metal scaffolding beneath the track. Bystanders gathered under the passengers, stretching out their hands to assure them that help was coming.

"Two people done fell out and clanked their head on the ground," one witness said in one of the videos posted by WKMG-TV .

#DBFD Removing riders from rollercoaster pic.twitter.com/ilFDDeikra

Daytona Beach Firefighters in the process of rescuing riders from rollercoaster accident at Boardwalk pic.twitter.com/vm1GctCGhq

#DBFD on scene at the Boardwalk in Daytona Beach rescuing riders from a roller coaster car that derailed and are hanging pic.twitter.com/BFDRa8hFiI

Firefighters climbed up to rescue them as well as six other passengers in two cars that were still on the track.

"They had to use the tower ladder to get to them and then bring them on board and guide them safely back down," Staton said.

Six of the 10 passengers were taken to the hospital. Staton said she did not know the extent of their injuries.

The accident is under investigation.

"We don't know what happened," Staton said.

Jennifer Meale, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — the department responsible for inspecting amusement rides across the state — said the Sand Blaster had been seen Thursday by state inspectors.

Meale's statement says the roller coaster "was found in compliance with state law." It says the agency is investigating the cause, and says "anyone who should be held accountable will be held accountable."

"Department inspectors conducted a thorough inspection of the ride, and it was found in compliance with state law," Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement.

Putnam added that "anyone who should be held accountable will be held accountable."

The Sand Blaster was already 40 years old when it opened at the boardwalk in August 2013, after being purchased from a closed amusement park in Delaware, according to a Daytona Beach News-Journal report .

In May 2017, the News-Journal reported that the boardwalk rides had been battered by winds and storm surge during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

The Sand Blaster was sidelined in February 2017 after a state inspector found more than a dozen safety violations, including cracked supports and damaged braces, according to the News-Journal. Additional city code violations were found the following month in the ride lot.

In May 2016, 64 riders were trapped 200 feet up in the air on Busch Gardens' Sheikra roller coaster. Half of the riders were in a car climbing up the main hill of the coaster, and the other half were inside a car about to plunge down the coaster's 90-degree drop. They were stuck for two hours.

Trevor Gutierrez, a 13-year-old from Atlanta whose family vacations in Daytona Beach every year, told the newspaper that it had been one of the few roller coasters he was willing to ride.

But the ride seemed too bumpy the last time he tried it, and after Thursday night's derailment, he decided to never try it again.

"I feel like the ride wasn't checked well enough," he said. "I'm not riding on that thing again."

Times staff writer Gabrielle Calise contributed to this report.

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