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Gaming Guru

Mary Manning

Stratosphere Ride Cleared to Reopen

22 April 2005

LAS VEGAS -- The Insanity thrill ride atop the Stratosphere got the green light to reopen this morning.

It had been closed at the request of Las Vegas city officials since Wednesday, after a young woman and a girl were stuck on the ride for about 90 minutes, suspended in the wind more than 900 feet above the Strip.

The city, which had asked for three letters attesting to the ride's safety -- one from the hotel, one from the original engineer of the ride and one from an independent ride inspector -- and received all three from the hotel this morning, city spokesman David Riggleman said.

Meanwhile, Glenn McKinnon, father of 19-year-old Erica McKinnon who was stuck on the ride earlier in the week when high winds shut it down, is planning to meet with attorneys Monday.

"They said it (Insanity) worked the way it's supposed to. That's unacceptable," he said.

"As I was driving to the Stratosphere, all I could think of is, 'Oh, my God, that's my baby up there,' " McKinnon said Thursday night.

"Erica has asthma, but she loves those types of rides," Glenn McKinnon said.

He was on the verge of panic as he sped to the Stratosphere partly because, he said, he had been hung up on three times while trying to get information from Stratosphere personnel who would only tell him "we're working on it."

When McKinnon arrived at the Stratosphere, Las Vegas Boulevard South was shut down and paramedics were waiting to check the girls' conditions. Contrary to his earlier treatment over the phone, at the scene a Stratosphere security supervisor was "awesome."

When the girls were rescued after dangling in the chilly, blustery air nearly 1,000 feet above the Strip on the immobile ride, their father was waiting for them.

A hotel engineer, who had just come on duty, inched along a 50-foot beam to rescue the two girls, McKinnon said. The Stratosphere will not release the man's name.

"Even though we're upset, that guy definitely has to be recognized as a hero," he said.

Erica McKinnon said she once rode the Big Shot ride on the Stratosphere, but this was her first time on Insanity.

"I will not go back (to the Stratosphere)," she said.

"It was scary, it was freezing, there's no words to describe the way we felt up there," Erica McKinnon said.

Although the Las Vegas native who graduated from Valley High School in 2004 could not take her purse, her cell phone was in her pocket, she said, but she had no asthma medication with her. "Yes, I was having trouble breathing and shaking," she said.

In addition to riding roller coasters, Erica McKinnon said she works two jobs, as a Safe Key employee for the North Las Vegas in the morning and in the Mirage resort's reception area at night.

"Erica loves roller coasters," said her mother Martha McKinnon. "She's fearless."

But when the mother received a frantic phone call from Erica while she was stuck in midair, the 19-year-old sounded frantic, McKinnon said.

Both the mother and father had given permission for the excursion to the Stratosphere.

Her daughter and her friend from out of state had gone to dinner after Erica got off work, the mother said. A younger sister, Yvonne, was too scared to get on the ride.

"She told me that she couldn't feel her hands and feet anymore," the mother said. "She told me that she loved me and said she thought she might die."

Why couldn't the resort have a release switch, Martha McKinnon wanted to know.

For 11-year-old Gabriella Cecineros, this will be her last thrill ride.

"The ride was shaking, I was afraid," Cecineros, Erica's cousin, said. "In your head you're thinking the ride is falling."

Cecineros, a sixth grader at Garside Junior High School, said, "No, no more rides. This is my first and last (ride) though."

In a 911 tape of the call Erica made, she sounded scared, breathless as winds whipped the cell phone from which she called. She made the call at 1:40 a.m., according to Metro Police records, just moments before she was rescued.

"Hello? Hello? Help me..." Erica said.

"Are you stranded somewhere?" the dispatcher asked.

"We're on top of the Stratosphere . . . on the Insanity. . . it's stuck out here," Erica said.

The dispatcher said she'd call hotel security.

"No, security's here. They're trying but there's nothing they can do," Erica said.

The call ends as the dispatcher asks, "Hello? Hello? Erica, are you there? Can you hear me?"

The phone call ended in static then silence.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman Tim Szymanski said Metro called them, and a batallion chief sent a crew to the scene immediately. But when firefighters got there, they were told the girls were already off the ride, he said.

The Stratosphere kept the Insanity ride closed Thursday but re-opened it on Friday.

The city asked the Stratosphere to shut down the Insanity ride after a 61 mph gust of wind triggered an automatic "pause" of the Insanity ride at 12:45 a.m. Wednesday morning.

"(The stratosphere) agreed to keep it closed until they sent all three letters," Riggleman said, adding that the city did not formally order the Stratosphere to close down the ride.

The city sent an official from the building department to the Stratosphere to meet with hotel officials and discuss safety measures, but not to inspect the actual ride, he said.

"We're going to leave it to the judgment of the experts," Riggleman said Thursday.

Randall Fine, senior vice president for marketing for American Casino and Entertainment Properties, the parent company of the Stratosphere, said the ride never malfunctioned. He said that the high winds prompted the automatic pause function of the ride, and it remained in pause mode with the two girls on the ride because the winds did not die down.