Dallas, TX State Fair Sky Ride Crash, Oct 1979
22 Oct. 1979
San Antonio Light
DALLAS (UPI) - Three gondola cars slammed together 100 feet above a crowd of 100,000 persons on the last day of the State Fair of Texas and "all of a sudden, people were falling through the air," a horrified witness said.
One man died and 16 persons were injured, including a fireman who suffered a broken leg when struck by a rescue vehicle in the frantic minute following the "Swiss Sky Ride" accident during gusty 40 mph winds late Sunday afternoon.
The dead man was identified as Fred Millard, 41, of Dallas.
Dallas police spokesman Ed Spencer said three gondola cars were involved in the accident which forced the state fair to close six hours early.
Spencer said a gondola car stalled on its cable 100 feet above the fair midway and was struck by a second gondola. The second car fell and then a third car collided with the first gondola and it fell while "the first car stayed up."
One witness, Sharon Dell, said, "One (gondola car) hit us and then another. We thought they'd stop the ride but they didn't. And then all of a sudden, people were falling through the air."
Another witness, Vanancio Rosales, said, "There was too much wind. The wind pulled it off the cable."
One of the cars went crashing through a tent-top concession stand seconds after its operator had rushed outside.
"I heard something that sounded like a real, loud drum," said the woman who had just rushed from her concession stand. "Then one of (the gondolas) crashed down next door. I got my shoes on and ran out - and then the other one landed right on top of my place."
Authorities took about 30 minutes to evacuate an estimated 100,000 persons from the fair grounds and used fire department "cherry pickers" to rescue 85 persons stranded in the 39 gondola cars that remained stuck on high wire cables.
An immediate investigation was ordered by fair officials, who closed the annual event for the first time in its history.
Some of the stranded riders were imprisoned inside the cars for up to three hours before being rescued. Ambulance and police sirens echoed through out the fair and its surrounding neighborhoods long after the accident. Families and friends tearfully embraced loved ones after they had been pulled to safety.
The effort to free the remaining passengers began after the injured were taken to hospitals. Fire department "cherry picker" trucks with tall extension ladders moved from gondola to gondola to lift down the stranded riders. People pushing in around the trucks applauded each time a gondola door swung open and its occupants crawled out to the waiting firemen.