Fearing for her life, young girl jumps from high-speed freefall ride
Exclusive: Authorities are investigating how a 12-year-old girl jumped off Australia's "tallest travelling freefall ride" after a fairground seatbelt malfunction left her thinking she was going to die if she stayed on it.
Holly Brown's leap saw her crash land onto a steel platform six metres below, breaking her foot, but that was a small price to pay, she said, after encountering every thrill-seeker's nightmare scenario: a safety restraint that failed to close.
Holly and her friend, Ava, were the only two riders on the Mega Drop at the Kilcoy Show in Queensland on Saturday, May 13, when the seatbelt system popped wide open just as the ride, which climbs around 30 metres and drops to the ground at 200km/h, began its ascent.
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"At first I thought it was like a joke," Holly said, "but then I realised it wasn't."
Having ridden Mega Drop earlier in the day, Holly said she understood the danger that lay in store if the ride reached the top of the tower and rocketed back to earth with her unfastened.
"I was really scared, like really, really scared."
Holly said she couldn't reach the rollercoaster-style restraint which had released and swung above her head, leaving her exposed and vulnerable.
Ava had managed to cling onto hers and pressed it against her chest, but it remained unlocked.
With the situation quickly escalating, Holly said the attendant grabbed hold of the rising platform which lifted him off the ground as he tried desperately to pull the safety harness down.
But, according to Holly and another witness, Danielle Snow, the operator slipped and fell from a height of around three metres.
He then yelled at Holly and Ava to jump off, they said.
"I'd been on this ride before so I knew what was going to happen," Holly said.
"So I thought, 'Well, I either jump and maybe I break a few bones or I go up and die.' So I was like, 'You know what, breaking bones is better than losing my life.' So I jumped."
Holly struggles to recall what happened next.
"I think I blacked out when I was jumping because I don't remember jumping," she said.
"All I remember is just laying in my friend's mum's lap and being in really excruciating pain."
Snow was the woman comforting Holly.
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Horrified, she had watched the drama unfold and Holly's bold leap into thin air.
"I reckon she would have been six to seven metres in the air, and the ride was still going up, when she jumped off it," Snow said.
Snow said Ava, who was now unbuckled and alone, travelled up the tower a little higher before the attendant hit an emergency stop button to halt the ride.
"Ava thought Holly had died," Snow said.
"Because from the height (Holly jumped) … she just assumed that she would have died, that she wouldn't have survived that."
Snow said Ava was stuck up on the ride for another 15 minutes as medical staff treated Holly below.
"(Ava) just went into an absolute panic and I was screaming at her trying to tell her that Holly was okay, but she couldn't hear me."
Ride operators eventually returned Ava safely to the ground.
In the aftermath, Snow called Holly's mum, Katie Sanzo, who at 29 weeks pregnant booked the next available flight and jumped on a plane from Victoria to Queensland to be with her injured daughter.
"I didn't know how bad it was until I landed," Sanzo said, describing a flight where she was gripped with anxiety.
"It was just awful, and it could have been a lot worse."
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Sanzo said it was "lucky" Holly and Ava were the only ones on the ride, which can hold up to 12 passengers.
"If it had been full, who knows what would have happened?"
Sanzo said the incident left Holly and a lot of people traumatised.
Queensland Workplace Health and Safety officials want to find out what happened on the ride.
"Our inspectors and engineers attended the scene and are currently investigating," a health and safety spokesperson said.
Following the incident, Snow spoke to staff members from Sunshine Coast-based P&C Amusements, who 9news.com.au understands to be the owners and operators of the ride.
A P&C Amusements staff member was seen in attendance and overseeing operations at the ride throughout the day.
P&C Amusements, which describes the Mega Drop as "Australia's tallest travelling freefall ride", has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
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Sanzo says she is "very disappointed" no one from P&C Amusements has called to check on Holly's health.
Holly suffered a lateral malleolus fracture in her right foot, Sanzo said, and an orthopedic specialist will take more scans to explore for possible further damage when swelling in her leg subsides.
"Holly is alive, that's the main thing," Sanzo said.
Kilcoy Show declined to comment while the workplace health and safety investigation was ongoing. The Kilcoy Show is not the owner or operator of the Mega Drop.
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