ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange County Fire Rescue released drone video on Tuesday showing crews working to rescue 63 people from The Wheel at ICON Park after the ride lost power on New Year’s Eve.
The video shows fire crews climbing up the ride and onto the gondolas to reach the people trapped inside on Saturday. More than 20 pods were occupied when the ride stopped functioning, according to fire rescue.
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Final Update: More than 60 people have been safely rescued from more than 20 pods. All pods are now empty and units have cleared @iconparkorlando. All rescue climbers on duty responded to the scene, with additional off duty rescue climbers also responding to assist if needed. https://t.co/1Bz7jrI1jV pic.twitter.com/PIXDD2pPLg— OCFire Rescue (@OCFireRescue) January 1, 2023
Cell phone video prior to the rescue shows sparks and smoke pouring off the side of the giant Ferris wheel.
Capt. Greg Hubbard with the Orlando Fire Department said this was the largest rescue conducted by the department. He said climbers went to each gondola to make sure those inside were OK and to alert them they were being helped.
“Our department has gone above and beyond to provide us with the training and the equipment to make us feel safe,” he said.
Hubbard said due to the nearby theme parks, the department has specific training to deal with any possible incident.
“We know without a doubt that all the members of our rescue climber team they’re up for the challenge,” he said.
Hubbard, who remotely assisted with the rescue, explained that because the power to the wheel was out, firefighters couldn’t see the passengers inside the capsules and couldn’t talk to them. So they had to look inside and make contact with the passengers, some very nervous, one by one.
“I know some calls were placed to 911 from people inside the gondola but we had very limited information,” Hubbard said. “So we did a lot of recon. Unfortunately for us, that recon meant visiting every single gondola, making access to that gondola, and then ensuring that everyone inside was safe. And then reassuring them that the fire department was here and that we were going to rescue them if need be. Were people panicking? Of course, a lot of people were panicking but they were reassured once we got there.”
The firefighters were planning to set up a zipline-type system to send passengers safely to the ground but they didn’t need it. Icon Park was able to manually move the wheel to get the rest of the passengers off, but not before firefighters rescued 63 people from around 20 capsules, largely using their ladder trucks.
OCFR Special Operations trains on the wheel 12 times a year, usually during overnight hours. They had just trained for this exact scenario weeks earlier.
“Most people find it hairy, but everyone on the team loves it,” Hubbard said. “Our department has gone above and beyond to provide us with the training and equipment to make sure we’re safe. Really no other department in the country does what we do here.”
ICON Park — the entertainment complex where the attraction is located — released a statement saying, “The Wheel lost power Saturday night and we’re working with the Orange County Fire Department to safely evacuate guests.”
The park has not said what caused the power outage or the sparks and smoke.
According to a statement from ICON Park officials, the ride will be closed for the next few days and a technical team is conducting maintenance.
Officials said Florida ride inspectors will review the attraction before reopening.
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