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70-second coaster ride turns into 5-hour rescue

A roller coaster at a California theme park is closed indefinitely after it got stuck Monday with 24 people aboard. It took about 50 firefighters nearly five hours to rescue the passengers.
/ Source: NBCBayArea.com

The Invertigo roller coaster at Great America in Santa Clara is closed indefinitely after it got stuck Monday with 24 people aboard.

It took about 50 firefighters from San Jose and Santa Clara nearly five hours to rescue the passengers from the ride, which was supposed to last just 70 seconds.

Images from news helicopters above the scene showed dozens of people stuck on the ride several stories above ground. The people on the lower end were at least 40 feet off the ground, with the people on top another 40 feet or so higher.

Shannon Brown was stuck on the ride for three hours, about seven stories up.

"There was a lot of noise, parts went flying. A big, heavy piece of metal went flying," Brown said, with a chuckle. "It gave a pretty rough stop — knocked my glasses off."

Brown wasn't injured during the ordeal, but he said it was pretty tough to bear.

"That was the worst part. Because you're leaning forward for three hours." Brown said. "That was uncomfortable; that hurt."

Brown's wife and children waited on the ground during the rescue.

"I was trying not to be scared, for the kids," Brown's wife, Renee, said.

The park said the ride suffered a problem with its lift chain, but that no one was ever in any immediate danger. They said fixing the ride was priority No. 2 and that getting the riders safely off and back on terra firma was priority No. 1.

Half of the riders were stuck leaning back and the other half were leaning forward in their seats with their legs dangling.

Some of the passengers could be seen holding bottles of water.

The passengers at the very bottom of the ride were tended to first by rescue crews on a cherry picker.

Speeds up to 50 mph
The Invertigo roller coaster is unique because riders' feet dangle below them as they are taken in loops at speeds of up to 50 mph.

Fire Capt. Scott Kouns said the good news is that the riders weren't upside down, although they are at a steep angle.

"They're sitting upright," he said. "They're not hurt, there's no injuries."

It was a hot day in Santa Clara with temperatures in the 90s. Any length of time trapped on a roller coaster would be uncomfortable, to say the least, and it took at least an hour to get the first person off the ride.

Fire crews on cherry pickers took passengers off their seats one by one. As soon as two people were off-loaded, they were lowered to the ground. Kouns said that to release the riders' harnesses, which come down over their shoulders, two pins have to be released simultaneously.

Invertigo is North America's first inverted face-to-face roller coaster.

Rescued passengers given refreshments
All passengers were taken down without any snags and, once on the ground, were given refreshments.

"They're being fed and drinks are available to them," Kouns said. "They're being accommodated quite nicely by the Great America staff here."

"There are people out there laughing, carrying on and talking about their experiences," he said as the rescue was taking place.

Many of those stuck on the ride could be seen swinging their legs back and forth as they waited to be rescued.

The Invertigo consists of a seven-car train that takes riders upside-down six times, to heights of up to 161 feet, in one minute and 10 seconds, according to Great America's Web site.

Each car is attached to the track from above and seats four riders back-to-back, with their feet dangling below them.