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400-foot Ferris wheel stops: All 66 riders safely taken off

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A technical crew with The Orlando Eye safely evacuated all 66 stranded riders from the Ferris wheel that towers 400 feet over central Florida after the attraction shut down Friday afternoon, authorities said.

Orange County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Kathleen Kennedy told The Associated Press no one was hurt and all were taken off in an operation lasting about three hours with help from several firefighters.

She said the attraction, which is billed by operators as the largest observation wheel on the East Coast, had initially stopped for more than 45 minutes.

Power was restored via a backup generator and a technical team at the attraction, backed by the firefighters, carried out the task of removing riders from the enclosed capsules after each was brought down to the platform, officials said.

“All guests are safely evacuated,” Kennedy told AP by phone Friday evening shortly after the last rider was removed about 7 p.m. She said firefighters on ladders helped the ride technical team that manually opened the doors.

Six elite rescue climbers with the fire rescue squad were dispatched but weren’t needed for a climb, Kennedy said. They were part of a 40-person agency special operations team that had climbed the attraction in training before but — she said — “thankfully” such an aerial operation wasn’t needed.

Andrea Alava, a public relations manager for The Orlando Eye, issued a statement that the attraction had shut down as a safety precaution before the team went to a backup operation. She said its teams carried out the actual evacuation, not firefighters as some reports initially suggested.

“At approximately 3:45 p.m., the operating systems for the Orlando Eye indicated a technical default with the system that monitors the wheel position of the Orlando Eye. As a safety precaution, the attraction is designed to automatically shut down if communication with this system is interrupted,” Alava said in an emailed statement.

“Immediately following the default, the operations team began working to resolve the matter to allow guests to disembark the attraction. A backup system was employed that allowed capsules to be moved to the platform and opened manually,” the statement added.

The statement said Eye representatives kept up two-way visual and audio communication with the riders “to ensure their safety and comfort” and that their priority was to ensure they safely disembarked.

“With that completed, we are now focused on reinstating the systems and restoring full operations of the Orlando Eye,” it added late Friday, apologizing to riders “for the inconvenience this caused.”

There was no immediate indication when the attraction would reopen.

The Orlando Sentinel ( http://bit.ly/1f9nChM ) reported

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