Matthew Howard Sr. and his family were just walking out of a New York amusement park when he heard screams for help. He looked up and saw a young girl dangling 25 feet in the air from a slow-moving gondola ride. Her little brother was next to her in the green two-person ride compartment, crying hysterically, screaming “She’s gonna fall, she’s gonna fall!”
Howard, 47, and his 21-year-old daughter, Leeann Winchell, positioned themselves under the girl as the ride stopped and security came running. A crowd of onlookers gathered, many filming, others calling for help.
“I said: ‘It’s ‘OK! It’s OK to let go, I’ll catch you, honey,'” said Howard.
The girl lost grip and fell down where Howard and his daughter, arms opened, waited with a few other good Samaritans. They took the brunt of the girl’s fall, falling to the ground after the impact. They and others carried to her to where emergency workers later arrived.
Howard, a contractor from Schenectady, was treated and released for a minor back injury.
“I couldn’t let that little girl die,” Howard told The Associated Press. “No one wants to put himself underneath a body like that, but I couldn’t stand by and watch.”
The 14-year-old girl was taken to Albany Medical Center in stable condition and no serious injuries, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office said.
Winchell, who is applying to be a nurse, said they visited the girl at the hospital and she was in good spirits. Her little brother was shaken up but uninjured, she said. They didn’t know how she’d fallen out of the ride.
“I’m just glad we could be there to help,” Winchell said. “We were in the right place at the right time.”
The accident happened on the Sky Ride at Six Flags Great Escape Amusement Park, about 55 miles north of Albany, New York. The ride was stopped by an operator after getting word of a rider in distress. The ride had been higher up at one point when the call came in.
The scene was caught on video by Loren Lent, from Glenville. He said Sunday that his 10-year-old daughter and wife had also been on the ride and watched from high above as the girl fell.
“My daughter was just traumatized,” he said. “She was crying for about a half-hour after.”
Lent said he thought it took too long for park employees to stop the ride and help. He said the ride had no seatbelt, and just a safety bar to hold patrons inside.
“I’ll never let my family on that ride again,” he said.
Officials inspected the ride and said it was in proper working order. The park said in a statement that the safety of guests is a top priority.
“There does not appear to be any malfunction of the ride, but we have closed the attraction until a thorough review can be completed,” a park official said.