Survivors speak of tragedy at fun-fair: Steel hoop 'had collapsed into path of Water Chute car'

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The Independent Online
ONE of the survivors of yesterday's accident at a South Wales amusement park said he saved himself from serious injury by ducking below the collapsed lighting gantry.

Raymond Verral, 17, had been sitting at the front of the open top car on the Water Chute ride at Coney Beach fairground, Porthcawl with his friend David Morgan, 15.

He said they realised something was wrong when they saw the horrified faces of people on the ground below. 'Then we spotted the steel hoop which had already collapsed and was in the path of the car. We ducked and it whistled straight over our heads but the others behind must have failed to notice it.

'When we got down and stopped I looked around and there was just blood everywhere,' he said.

Timothy Morgan, nine, was flung clear of the Water Chute ride and died at the scene. He had been sitting with his father Christopher, 46, at the back of the six-seat carriage.

Raymond, who knows the Morgan family from attending the Church of Latter Day Saints in Cardiff with David, said he was asked to join the family outing yesterday morning. The dead boy's mother, Theresa, and sister Sally had decided not to go on the day out.

Detective Superintendent John Williams of South Wales police, said that the Water Chute had been checked less than two weeks ago, and its owner had thought the ride safe to operate yesterday despite the wet and windy conditions. He said it would be 'very presumptuous' to say if the weather had played a part before accident investigators had examined the site.

Health and safety officials are due to return to the fairground this morning to begin their inquiries, and to examine the ride's maintenance records. The Water Chute will remain closed until their checks are completed.

A voluntary code of practice operated by the Health and Safety Executive and the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain stipulates that rides should be examined by an independent engineer every 14 months. Local authorities must also be satisfied on safety grounds before they will issue licences.

'We are responsible for general fairground safety, including the running of fairgrounds and the suitability of people to run an operation, but the safety of individual rides. . .is regulated on a voluntary basis,' an HSE spokeswoman said.

'Each piece of machinery has to be given the all-clear by an independent engineer, not appointed by the fairground owners, to the satisfaction of the Showmen's Guild. Our inspectors check safety further and there is also a local authority involvement.'

Fairground owners must insure rides, but there is no obligation to display a certificate of worthiness. An HSE report three years ago concluded that people were more likely to be injured as a result of drunken antics and badly trained attendants than from dangerous machinery. Of 55 accidents notified to the HSE in 1990, only two were caused by equipment failure.

In its study, the HSE found that people taking 10 fun-fair rides stand one chance in a million of being killed and were more likely to have an accident in their car on the way to the fairground.

In the past 10 years, at least 10 people have died and more than 560 been injured on fairground rides. Between 1981 and 1988 there were 220 serious injuries and 23 deaths. In 1985 there were six deaths.

Twelve people were injured when two rollercoaster carriages collided at Blackpool last August. In September 1992, a girl aged five was killed when she was thrown from a rollercoaster in Margate, Kent.