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Friday, September 17, 2021

Parents question mall safety measures following Gondolania ride incident

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A half dozen children were stuck on a ride at Villaggio mall’s fun park this afternoon for about an hour after a technical malfunction suddenly stopped the ride. The Ministry of Interior reports that the children were eventually rescued by Civil Defense.

But questions remain over the mall’s emergency preparedness, despite the fact that Villaggio was closed for three months and underwent numerous safety inspections after 19 people were killed in a fire there.

One couple, whose son and friends were among those suspended upside down in the air today, share what happened:

By Erin and James Olsen

At approximately 12:25pm today our son boarded the Gondolania ride called “Sky Loop” with three friends and three other children unknown to us. We were at Gondolania celebrating the birthday of a friend (who did not board the ride).

The ride took off, raised into the air and started to spin when it froze at it’s highest point. Our children were all hanging upside down.

At first we thought it was part of the ride.

Soon it was clear that there was a malfunction.

We didn’t worry too much at first, assuming that there were safety measures and emergency response procedures in place.

After a few more minutes I asked the manager who had actively been on his phone what the plan was to get our children onto safe ground. It was clear that there was no plan, and that he was quite worried himself.

At that point (12:35pm), I dialed 999. Shortly thereafter (perhaps 10 minutes) the civil defense and fire department personnel arrived. Throughout this time, there were two technicians working (unsuccessfully) to get the ride to come down.

Our fear however, with nothing between our dangling kids and the concrete floor, was that the machine would come crashing down. At this point we were all panicked.

The children were crying, their faces red, two of them had vomited, their legs were going numb, and the pressure of the restraints was causing significant pain. As we understand it, one of the children was asthmatic and was clearly suffering.

At 45 minutes, the technicians working with other respondents were able to get the ride down. There were medical personnel (I believe they were bicycle medics from Villagio) who had arrived and took good care of the children, treating them for shock and hyperventilation.

Our son and his friends were all taken to Hamad hospital and evaluated. Fortunately no one suffered any serious injuries (though obviously I can’t verify this for the other three children).

For us, we’re left with two overwhelming feelings.

First, gratitude. We’re overwhelmed with gratitude, not just for our children’s ultimate safety, but also for all of the respondents and their genuine concern and care. We’re thankful to the civil defense and others who responded very quickly to the 999 call. They came with confidence and immediately set about, working with the two technicians to help resolve the situation.

We’re thankful to God who saw fit to spare our children any injury. We’re thankful.

Second, however, it’s clear that while no one was specifically at fault, that there was no in-place plan for handling this kind of situation.

It’s not clear that those responsible for Gondolania had any more idea what to do in the situation than we did.

There was no padding to put underneath the dangling children. There were no ladders or other machinery to reach up to the children (such things were sought after the whole time – but no one seemed to know where or even if such things existed).

There was not even a member of the Gondolania or Villagio management who bothered to talk to us or offer any support throughout the entirety of the event.

At the end, we were asked to sign an “Incident Report,” but were offered no apology, no questions made as to our children’s well-being – simply no word at all.

The manager of Gondolania by this point had conveniently (perhaps understandably) disappeared.

Again, I do not think this is because anyone felt any ill-will toward us or made mistakes in the operation of the ride; it’s simply clear that there was nothing like a policy or plan or training for such emergencies.

We certainly anticipated that following the tragic deaths of last spring, there would be a general revisiting of all such safety and emergency response procedures.

It’s clear that much more work is needed here.

PS We do not feel anger or wish any ill upon any of the staff working at Gondolania. As was mentioned, our feelings are first of gratitude for what they did, and second a hope that institutional reforms can be made to insure more competent action in the future. 

Credit: Photo by Abdul Rahman Al Harmi

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