Riders survive terrifying wind-whipped balloon ride at Safari Park, witness says

SAN DIEGO – Wind gusts violently whipped a balloon ride with women and children aboard it at San Diego Zoo Safari Park Monday, according to a witness.

Women and children were thrown around during a terrifying helium balloon ride at the zoo in Escondido just before 4 p.m. Monday, according to Jordan Lapidot. She captured video of the scary moments after the balloon operator appeared to lose control due to strong winds.

“These adults and children were getting thrown all over and holding onto the sides of the cage like their life depended on it,” Lapidot said. “I kept thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, someone is going to fly out of this thing.’"

The balloon ride was carrying several people, including children, when it was getting whipped around, even dipping into the trees, she said.

“I saw adults literally getting fully tipped sideways and hanging onto the fence like it was the Titanic. Can you imagine the children?” Lapidot told FOX 5. "I really wish I would have caught of the first part when the storm blew in. It was truly terrifying."

According to Lapidot, zoo workers frantically gained control of the ride and lowered it to safety. None of the passengers appeared to be seriously injured.

“Thank goodness it appeared as though everyone was ok, but they all came RUNNING off of that balloon. It was a disaster. We were just watching, totally helpless. People were screaming and in total shock watching this,” she said.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park spokeswoman Christina Simmons responded to FOX 5's inquiry about the incident:

"Unfortunately the quality of the Youtube video (and the backlit trees between the balloon landing pad and the person videotaping) give an odd impression.  We do have a balloon safari at the Safari Park.  The balloon goes up and down and as it is pulled back down to the landing pad it often goes to one side while the cord is pulling it in.

You can see from the cleared video of the balloon that there is a cable in the center that slowly pulls it into the landing pad.  The landing pad has a great deal of cleared space around it and the balloon was never out of this cleared space as it was slowly pulled into dock."

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park also has a description of the balloon ride on its website.

“Modeled after the hot air balloon tours of the Serengeti, the Balloon Safari tethered helium balloon rises silently 400 feet. Spend 10 to 12 minutes in the sky over the Safari Park. The best time to fly is 9 a.m. to noon. Prices are subject to change; please inquire when at the Park.”

The Safari Park wasn't the only San Diego-area theme park to experience a rescue situation caused by strong wind gusts Monday.

Sixteen people were rescued from the SeaWorld San Diego Bayside Skyride after a big gust of wind tripped a circuit breaker halting the ride Monday night.

The riders were stuck in five gondolas, some of which were suspended above Mission Bay. Of the riders, seven were children, including one baby.

Jonathan Sherr, who is partially paralyzed, was on the skyride at 7:22 p.m. when the wind gusts caused it to come to a halt.

“We got on the ride and there were some wind gusts. By the time we were in the middle of the ride a wind gust of about 40 miles per hour came up. It was crazy. It started rocking our car,” Sherr said. “I looked up at the cable and we were shaking violently. Then, it just stopped. There’s apparently a sensor that stopped the ride.”

By 11 p.m., all of the trapped riders had been rescued, according to San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. The riders were lowered by harnesses and rescued by lifeguard boats before they were evaluated by medical crews.

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