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Six Flags puts credibility at risk

The death of a roller coaster rider at Six Flags Over Texas appears to have one of two likely causes: Either some kind of negligence on the part of ride operators caused a Dallas woman to plummet from the Texas Giant, or there was some kind of security restraint malfunction. Either way, the public deserves clear answers about what happened and why.

The decision by Six Flags to offer minimal information and to keep its investigation in-house, instead of seeking an independent review, strikes us as self-serving and unlikely to put the public at ease. Neither Texas nor the federal government has agencies charged with amusement park accident investigations.

In a succinctly worded statement, Six Flags offered thoughts and prayers for the victim’s family and said it is committed to finding answers. But the Six Flags website offers not a word about the accident, only stating: “The Texas Giant is temporarily closed.” In an information void, the natural tendency of the public is to speculate, a situation that seems destined to further erode the park’s image.

People go to Six Flags primarily for the death-defying thrills offered by rides with sharp turns, anticipation-building ascents and sudden earthward plunges at ridiculous speeds. But when a ride brings death instead of defying it, the public has every reason to stay away.

Ultimately, if Six Flags fails to reassure the public that its rides are safe and its staffers are focused on doing their jobs properly, many customers will simply conclude that the risks aren’t worth the $63 admission fee. And who could blame them?

Credibility is key. For Six Flags to assume responsibility for investigating itself is tantamount to assigning Asiana Airlines to lead the probe of its July 6 jumbo-jet crash landing in San Francisco. The kinds of answers required to restore public confidence go far beyond heavily lawyered statements of no-comment-pending-legal-action or that the investigation will be handled internally.

Nor is it adequate for Six Flags officials to fall back on the park’s record of having experienced only two ride-related deaths of guests since it opened in 1961. Anything short of 100 percent reliability is unacceptable when the rides in question essentially require customers to suspend all doubt and put 100 percent of their trust in the hands of youthful ride operators and unseen equipment manufacturers.

For its own sake, Six Flags needs to hire an outside investigator, open its records and make all pertinent personnel available for questioning, then step aside. Otherwise, any financial harm that befalls the company because of its mishandling of this accident will be deserved.

The Dallas Morning News