Passengers stranded on sky ride at Southwick Zoo, suspended above animals

MENDON, Mass. — About 40 people were rescued at Southwick’s Zoo Friday, after becoming stuck on a scenic zoo ride that travels up to 30 feet high above animal enclosures.

Seven-year-old Sebastian said he tried to be brave as he spent about an hour and a half stuck on the Skyfari Sky Ride with his grandparents on a very hot Friday afternoon.

“I thought I was going to die,” Sebastian said. “It was crazy. It was like, I’ve never been on a ride that’s broken.”

Betsey Brewer, co-owner of Southwick’s Zoo, said workers had shut down the chairlift-type ride after discovering an issue they are now investigating.

“Our employees that were running the ride noticed a small oil leak and decided to err on the side of caution and stopped the ride and started evacuating,” Brewer said. “We just have to make sure that the animals are contained, and we have the lift to go in and get the people down safely. And it went smooth as silk. We couldn’t be happier that all the emergency techniques and all the training that we’ve done has really paid off.”

Fire Chief Bill Kessler said zoo workers had rescued about half of the stranded riders before firefighters and a technical rescue team responding to a 911 call arrived.

First responders used a zoo lift, bucket equipment and ladder trucks to harness and rescue 12 adults and 7 children. No one was injured.

The nearly two-hour operation had its challenges, including getting vehicles into the wooded areas among animal enclosures.

“When [the ride] goes through trees, which is great for customers of Southwick’s Zoo, it makes rescuing them a little bit tougher,” Kessler said. “Especially with some of the animal enclosures, the zookeepers here did try to clear a couple of the animal areas; they weren’t able to on some.”

Sebastian’s grandfather Russ Carter applauded the many fire crews for their rescue efforts and said he didn’t mind the delay, keeping cool with water bottles bystanders threw up to them.

“Smooth, easy operation,” Carter said. “They knew what they were doing, explained who they were… We’re fine. What more could you do?”

Brewer said the Skyfari ride has been part of the zoo for about 15 years and has never had such a problem.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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