Adventureland Park violated 17 safety standards in connection with a July accident on the Raging River ride that left an 11-year-old Marion boy dead and his brother and father seriously injured, the Iowa Division of Labor has found.
Michael Jaramillo drowned when the raft carrying him and his family capsized on the ride July 3. Michael's older brother David, then 15, spent a month in a hospital, and their father, also David, suffered a severe shoulder injury.
The Division of Labor in an order the Des Moines Register obtained Thursday said the violations included failing to supervise riders, using unapproved replacement parts and having deficient evacuation procedures.
The Altoona amusement park's longtime attorney, Guy Cook, contested the state's findings.
"The recent order issued by the state inspector contains factual errors [and] comments on matters unrelated to the accident," Cook wrote in an email.
The Division of Labor issued no fines against Adventureland. Although it is responsible for inspecting rides, it has no authority under Iowa law to fine their operators, according to a comment officials at the agency attributed to Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts.
The division did say, however, that 11 changes must be made before the ride, which the park has operated since 1983, can reopen. It closed after the accident and remained shut down for the rest of the park's 2021 season, which ended in September.
The violations finding comes despite the fact that a state ride inspector had signed off on the ride's condition and the park's written policies for operating it on July 2, just one day before the accident.
"The issues cited in the order, if true, would have been in existence when the state inspector signed off on the ride following an inspection the day before the accident," Cook said.
He said the park will take measures to fix the ride.
"Adventureland is committed to guest safety and will undertake all appropriate remedial measures to ensure the ride complies with established standards. Safety is the number one priority at Adventureland," Cook said.
The Division of Labor issued the order Nov. 12 but did not make it public until the Register requested a copy of it.
What the state found
According to the state order, Adventureland's management violated safety standards because the park:
Used parts that hadn't been approved by the manufacturer to replace the weirs that guide rafts, and did not do associated engineering work.
Used Flex Seal, a product marketed primarily through TV infomercials, rather than approved patches, to fix leaks in rafts' flotation bladders. A state report said the Jaramillo raft after the accident had a deflated bladder, and a state report said it had been repaired earlier in the day.
Didn't test rafts following repairs.
Didn't adequately document repairs.
Didn't provide continuous, direct supervision of riders.
Failed to update the ride's evacuation plan when the park's layout changed.
Used "deficient" forms for daily inspections.
Conducted inadequate training for employees on ride operation and evacuation.
At the time of the July 3 accident, according to the order:
The ride's evacuation route was blocked by set-up of a July 4 fireworks display.
The manager on duty and the ride's maintenance crew had no documented training on the ride.
One of the ride's weirs was detached from the trough.
Operators responded inadequately to "back-to-back" releases of rafts.
A rope linking a flotation tube to the seating area of a raft was improperly tied, and came loose.
The order did not address why the defects and violations it cites were not noted when, according to records, inspector B.J. Burriola physically inspected the rafts in June then "visually inspected them" July 2, giving the ride clearance to open following installation of a new control panel.
In his inspection report, Burriola gave a clean bill of health not only to the ride's physical condition but to its emergency and operator training procedures, "written or otherwise."
In 2017, he also had approved the daily inspection form then in use — a category not listed on routine inspection reports since.
Division of Labor officials did not respond to questions about whether anyone had been disciplined or any procedures were being changed or reviewed as a result of the findings in the order.
Before the park can reopen the ride, the division ordered it to:
Put the ride's weirs through "appropriate design and testing."
Create new written emergency evacuation plans.
Replace all flotation bladders with "manufacturer-approved" parts.
Receive an engineer's approval on several issues related to the ride's safety and physical condition.
The order also called for changes to the park's overall procedures, including:
Maintaining written records on all ride repairs.
Using ride-specific daily inspection forms for each ride.
Using individual checklists for every ride to document ride-specific training of operators and maintenance crews.
Jaramillo family mulls next steps
The Jaramillo family has not yet determined how to respond to the order, according to their lawyer.
"We have just received documents from the state of Iowa. We are in the process of reviewing them," attorney Ryan Best said.
The order comes more than four months since the accident. Michael, his parents, his two brothers and a cousin were submerged when their boat capsized.
Michael and the younger David were both trapped in their seat belts under the raft, according to reports.
Both boys were taken from the scene in ambulances for treatment at Des Moines hospitals.
Michael was pronounced dead early July 4. An autopsy report lists drowning as his cause of death.
The family has not initiated legal proceedings, although Michael's estate documents indicate the Jaramillos intend to pursue a negligence claim related to his death.
Best declined to comment further on the possibility of legal action.
Register investigation found river raft rides have record of serious accidents
A Register investigation published in October found a decades-long string of deaths and injuries connected to simulated river rapids rides around the world, including some made by the Liechtenstein-based manufacturer of Raging River, Intamin Amusement Rides.
Several of the violations cited in the Iowa Division of Labor order are consistent with problems the Register's investigation found contributed to accidents at other rapids rides:
Under-inflated air bladders.
Failure to supervise riders at all times.
Inadequate staff training.
Inadequate emergency procedures.
Experts interviewed in connection with the Register's investigation said the Register's findings showed the potential for serious problems with the way the rides are designed and managed.
"If lack of following a procedure leads to a catastrophic outcome, then we have not designed a system that is resilient enough to actually do what we need it to do," said Trish Kerin, an internationally known industrial safety expert who had reviewed one of the other accidents.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Adventureland's Raging River ride had 17 safety violations, state says