Disney releases 911 tapes of frantic customers stuck on ride
The tapes depict stranded riders crying, pleading for help for people with health conditions and in one case a man who had passed out, all when the gondolas broke down Oct. 5
By Gabrielle Russon, Caroline Glenn and Mark Skoneki
ORLANDO — For nearly an hour, an 11-year-old Lakeland girl was on the phone with 911, pleading for somebody to rescue her epileptic and anxious mother trapped on Disney World’s Skyliner gondola earlier this month.
Reedy Creek, Disney’s quasi-government that handles the parks’ emergency responses, released the 911 audio tapes Friday after a public records request from the Orlando Sentinel.
The tapes depict stranded riders crying, pleading for help for people with health conditions and in one case a man who had passed out, all when the gondolas broke down Oct. 5. Some people said they were stranded for almost three hours.
“We again offer our deepest apologies to the guests involved,” Disney spokeswoman Erica Ettori said in a statement Friday.
The girl was on the way to Epcot with her mom when the gondola cabin, loaded with six people, stopped over Disney’s Boardwalk.
In some moments, she is calm.
“I don’t know if we’re stuck or something,” the girl says early into the call.
But as the minutes tick by, she weeps onto the phone, sounding panicked. Her mother, a 38-year-old Spanish speaker who doesn’t have her medicine with her, isn’t having a seizure on the gondola but she is frightened, the girl tells the dispatcher.
“It’s been 20 minutes up here!” the child wails. “Please. I’m begging you!”
The dispatcher tries to reassure her, keeping the conversation going. She asks the girl if the family is on vacation. She encourages everyone to take deep breaths. She warns her not to give the mother any food or drink, in case she has a seizure.
“We’re getting help to you,” the dispatcher says.
“Get her out of here as fast as you can, people!” the girl says. “I am going to sue Disney for this!”
“It seems like it’s taking forever but we’re trying to get to you as fast as we can, OK?” the dispatcher says in a steady, patient voice. She never let silence on the line last for more than a few seconds.
The dispatcher tells her the truck is coming with firefighters, and Disney is trying to get the gondolas going again. An emergency team also is on the way to the gondola station too, the dispatcher assures her.
At one point, she fans her mother with some paper. The phone battery is dying, but she sees a firetruck, 35 minutes into the call.
“My mom is freaking out, but she’s calmer than before,” the child says.
Fifty-one minutes into the call, the child is crying again. “Please, my mom is the strongest woman I know,” she sobs.
“They’re coming up to you right now,” the dispatcher says.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” the girl says.
The 911 call tape ends as help has presumably arrived.
At least one person was taken to the hospital that night and later released, but nothing about his or her condition was revealed. Two others also went to the hospital, although a Reedy Creek spokeswoman was unable to say if they had been trapped gondola riders.
In another phone call, a man told the 911 dispatcher his wife was going in and out of consciousness and had a fever. The 32-year-old woman can be heard crying in the background as her husband relays that she has a heart condition and has been on medication.
“My wife just passed out and came back ... I’m just getting really concerned now, it’s near two hours ... she’s breathing, she’s just in a lot of pain ... oh gosh, she’s burning up,” the man tells 911. “This is bad. She’s not going to last long.”
Another rider called 911 worried about his 88-year-old mother on the gondola with him and three others.
“She’s in a wheelchair, she’s stuck here, and she’s 88 and she’s getting overheated,” the man said. “If she gets overheated and has a stroke or something...” He trails off.
The dispatcher tells him that technicians are working to bring the power back. He tells the dispatcher the gondola he’s on is just about a foot away from the station. At one point, he seems to contemplate trying to open the door, which was not working at the time. The dispatcher tells him not to do it.
“We want off right now,” he says. “All they need to do is pry the doors open. I could probably do it myself. I’m sure a couple of firemen could easily do it.”
Later in the call, the man indicates the door is open, although it’s unclear how. He tells the dispatcher: “I’m going to try to get her out ... I’m stuck now. Ow!” and then the line goes dead.
According to another call, a 36-year-old man with high blood pressure also passed out at the Riviera Skyliner Station. The caller said he had just left the gondola. It’s unclear how long he was on board.
In another, a woman called to check on her twin daughters who had called to tell her they’d been stuck on the gondola. Others who said they suffered from anxiety also dialed 911 to see how long they would be up in the air.
To date, Disney has not disclosed the cause of the shutdown, with a spokeswoman calling it “unexpected downtime” on the night it happened. The Skyliner had only been open seven days.
Nor has Disney commented about photos from social media showing crumpled gondolas at one of the loading stations.
“Following a complete review with the manufacturer, we’ve made adjustments to our processes and training, and we are improving how we communicate with guests during their flight with Disney Skyliner,” according to a post on the official Disney parks blog on Oct. 14, the day the gondolas reopened to the public.
A union spokesman for the Reedy Creek Fire Department said the rescue required nearly all its personnel, but a spokeswoman for Reedy Creek later disputed that.
The gondola line that malfunctioned connects Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort with Epcot. There’s another station along the line at Disney’s Riviera Resort, scheduled to open in December. Other lines connect to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Pop Century and Art of Animation resorts.
©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)