RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — An ongoing investigation by North Carolina's Department of Labor found that a large crack in the support column of a towering roller coaster had been visible for at least a week before the amusement park shut it down for repairs.
"It looks like maybe six to 10 days prior, some pictures had been taken that shows the beginning of the crack, and then by obviously last Friday, the thing was completely severed," Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Charlotte-based Carowinds amusement park came under investigation this week after a video surfaced online of an operational roller coaster with a large crack in one of its columns. The footage of Fury 325, known as a "giga coaster" due to its dramatic height of 325 feet (99 meters), showed a key support beam bending with the top visibly detached as cars packed with unsuspecting passengers barreled by at speeds of up to 95 mph (150 kph).
Carowinds, which straddles the North Carolina and South Carolina line, has announced plans to repair the ride and says it will implement additional inspection procedures. A park spokesperson did not immediately respond Friday to an email seeking comment on the commissioner's observations.
The park's maintenance team and the ride manufacturer, Switzerland-based Bolliger & Mabillard, determined this week that a fracture had formed along a weld line in one of the steel support columns. It plans to remove and replace the column and expects a new one — engineered by the same manufacturer — to be delivered to the park next week.
Park staff had closed Fury 325 late last week after a visitor pointed out the sizable crack. Investigators from the North Carolina Department of Labor were on site Monday and Wednesday as the park's other attractions remained open. The department has not yet released the findings of its investigation.
Dobson, a Republican, said he is "very pleased" with Carowinds' efforts to repair the crack and improve its routine inspection process. But his department is still looking into how the crack occurred and why the ride remained open as long as it did.
The Department of Labor's Amusement Device Bureau had conducted its annual inspection of Fury 325 in February and only found a few signage issues, which Dobson said the park quickly corrected.
After Carowinds installs the new support column, it plans to conduct accelerometer tests, which use sensors to measure the vibration of a structure. The parks says it will then operate the ride for 500 full cycles while running various tests on the entire coaster. The manufacturer and a third-party testing firm will then perform a final inspection.
"While we regularly inspect the coaster, we are planning to implement additional inspection procedures to ensure we are making every effort to promptly identify and address future potential issues," the park said in a statement. The new procedures, it said, will include the regular use of drones outfitted with cameras to inspect hard-to-reach places.
A date has not been set for the ride's reopening.
"We're going to take as long as it takes," Dobson said. "And until we're 100% comfortable issuing that new certificate of operation, we will not do so."