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Investigation underway to determine why NC State Fair ride malfunctioned, injuring 5

RALEIGH, N.C. (MCT) —  State officials plan to hold a press conference Friday morning to provide an update on the investigation into an accident on N.C. State Fair midway that sent five people to the hospital Thursday night.

Two of the five were seriously injured when a Vortex ride apparently malfunctioned.

"It appears to be an accident," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said late Thursday. He said there were 35 to 40 witnesses to the accident.

The press conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.

The incident was called in at 9:16 p.m., according to emergency dispatchers. Department of Agriculture spokesman Brian Long said all five of the injured were en route to WakeMed in Raleigh by 9:30 p.m.

One of the injured was a ride operator, Harrison said. People from the same family were among the other four victims, he said, but authorities were unsure of their exact relationship. The ages of the injured ranged from 14 to 39 years old. Their names were not released Thursday.

Long said the fair will operate on its normal schedule Friday.

The Vortex ride spins around as an arm flips riders upward toward the sky, spinning faster as the riders are flipped upside down at the highest point of elevation.

There are two Vortex rides at the fair, according to the State Department of Agriculture, which oversees the fair. The Vortex involved in the accident is located on the lower midway behind the Expo Center on the fairgrounds. It was manufactured by Technical Park International of Italy and was appearing at the N.C. State Fair for the first time this year.

An older Vortex is located on the new midway and has been at the fair for many years, according to the agriculture department.

Preliminary reports indicated that the ride stopped and started again as operators were beginning to off-load passengers, Harrison said.

All rides at the fair are inspected three times daily, according to Delores Quesenberry, director of communications for the state Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor had representatives at the scene Thursday night, and will be responsible for checking inspection records and determining if the accident was due to equipment malfunction or operator error.

Harrison said the City-County Bureau of Identification was also at the scene, helping to determine how the incident unfolded.

The last serious injury at the fair occurred in 2002 when a carnival worker was killed after accidentally slipping into the path of one of the Banzai ride's swinging pendulum cars. In 2004, a carnival worker was injured taking down a ride at the end of the fair's 10-day run when a 15-foot-high steel section of the ride fell on him.

(c)2013 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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