24 rescued after pier ride stalls

Staff Writer

Last update: 25 May 2003

DAYTONA BEACH -- Marty and Esther Ashton said this Memorial Day weekend will be one they will not quickly forget.

The West Palm Beach couple sat for 90 minutes Saturday night in a gondola ride on the Skylift over the Main Street Pier waiting to be rescued by firefighters.

"Firefighter Bill was so nice," said Esther Ashton, referring to firefighter Bill Upchurch, who helped her slide down a rope. "He said 'I will be your rescuer tonight' and he was so calm."

The Ashtons were two of 24 people who were stuck high above the pier when the cables suspending the gondolas slipped off the pulleys and stopped operating at 8:18 p.m., said Fire Department spokesman Lt. John King.

Firefighters used ropes, harnesses and ladders to help the stranded people down, King said. Six to eight people were lowered with ropes and harnesses and ladders before the maintenance crew of the Skylift rerouted the cables onto the pulleys, King said. The others were slowly lowered once the ride became operational again. No one was injured in the incident, King said.

Some riders, like Joanna Diemer, said they were scared, especially when a few people fishing directly below her gondola started screaming that the rides were breaking down, Diemer said.

"We were right over the water's edge when I heard a sudden clunk, clunk, clunk," Diemer said. "It was very loud and very scary when the gondolas started shaking and dipping. I looked up and you could clearly see that the cables were off the pulleys on the support poles."

Diemer, her husband, Matt and 6-year-old son, Alec, scaled down a ladder firefighters raised to help them down.

"I rode that thing two years ago and the dipping and shaking when you cross the pulleys really had us worried," said Dave Roby, of Orlando. Roby stood on the beach watching firefighters scaling up ropes to reach the stranded people.

"We are not riding it again," Roby said. "They are not that


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