As they left a Sunday afternoon choir performance at San Jose's Christmas in the Park, Dawn Seward and her 8-year-old daughter Julia walked by the Ferris wheel in Winter Wonderland when suddenly they were startled by "a few big bangs, and then a pop."
"And then we looked up, and one of the carriages on the Ferris wheel was swinging," said Seward, who watched as a strip of lights on one arm of the wheel fell.
Seward said that as the ride's operator tried to see what was happening, Seward saw "a big chunk" of the ride fall off. "I was shocked that no one was hit," she said.
Butler Amusements, the company that operates the 20 rides on-site at the annual downtown holiday festival, confirmed that no one was injured. However, the wheel had to be reversed to allow one adult and child off the ride, said Lance Moyer, vice president of operations.
"We have had no problems with that ride -- or any other ride," said Moyer, who said the operator closed down the ride "the minute it happened."
Moyer said an inspection later revealed that a rivet that holds a box attached to an 8-foot-long string of LED lights on one of the wheel's arms had come loose. When the box fell, it took the string of lights with it, hitting the canopy of a carriage below, and breaking off about a 10-inch piece of fiberglass. He said the force of the lights knocking the carriage made it swing from side to side.
"We have gone completely through the ride to make sure it won't happen again," said Moyer, adding that the company on Sunday night was installing a second safety strap around every string of lights attached to each of the Ferris wheel's arms.
Moyer said Beaverton, Ore.-based Butler Amusements has supplied the carnival rides for the Winter Wonderland for the past 10 years and has "the best safety record of any traveling amusement park in the country."
He said there have been no problems with the Ferris wheel or any of the company's other 19 rides in the Winter Wonderland, some of which are located between the Fairmont hotel and its annex, and others -- like the Ferris wheel -- on Park Avenue next to The Tech Museum of Innovation. Christmas in the Park is centered at Plaza de Cesar Chavez, across from the hotel's main entrance.
The executive said all rides are inspected daily for safety and receive inspections at least once a year from a series of state inspectors.
Chris Esparza, head of the San Jose-based Giant Creative Services that has contracted with Butler Amusements for the Winter Wonderland rides over the past decade, also vouched for the safety of the company's record at the annual holiday event.
"These rides are very safe," he said, and well-maintained by a "watchful operator."
That may be, but neither Seward nor her daughter was completely convinced.
"My daughter just turned to me and said, "OK. I'm never going on that ride," Seward said. "And I told her, '"No, you're not.'"
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.