Remembering Kings Island's Sky Ride
Coney Island worker Charles Flatt inspects a Swiss Sky Ride bucket.
Cincinnati Post photoIn 1965, Cincinnati's Coney Island put in a new, $300,000 ride: the "Swiss Sky Ride." The old Wildcat roller coaster was demolished for the new 1,200 foot long, three minute ride. 32 gondolas spanned the length of Coney Island's mall with stations for loading and disembarking at both ends of the mall. It's highest point was 96 feet above the ground, offering guests a spectacular view of Coney Island and the Ohio River.
The Sky Ride was manufactured by Von Roll Seilbahnen AG of Switzerland. Von Roll was the premiere manufacturer of amusement park aerial tram rides at the time. At the time of the Coney Island installation, Von Roll had built many popular attractions such as Disneyland's Skyway, Cedar Point's Skyride, and the Skyride at the Minnesota State Fair.
Coney Island's Swiss Sky Ride was immensely popular. When park officials decided to "relocate" Coney further inland, the decision was made to include the Sky Ride in the list of rides to move to the new park in Kings Mills.
Coney Island closed September 6, 1971. The support towers of the Swiss Sky Ride were dismantled and taken to the Kings Island site, where they were reassembled. The cars themselves would be replaced with new ones for Kings Island. The Swiss chalet-style stations at Coney were demolished. The fate of the original Sky Ride cars are unknown.
At Kings Island, the Sky Ride (without the Swiss part of the name) now spanned the width of the park, instead of the length like at Coney. The station in Oktoberfest retained the Swiss chalet style of the Coney stations, while the station in the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera was a more modern style with bright, cartoony colors to fit in with the area's theme. Because it utilized the same support columns as at Coney Island, the Sky Ride again reached heights of 96 feet, offering a unique vantage point higher than the Eiffel Tower's 50-foot platform and the top of the Racer's first hill, but shorter than the tower's 265 and 275-foot platforms.
The Sky Ride can be seen in the 1972 Partridge Family and Banana Splits episodes filmed at the park, with the latter having some shots actually filmed from the Sky Ride. The Sky Ride appeared on television again in 1973 when the Brady Bunch filmed at Kings Island.
When Taft Broadcasting opened Kings Island's sister park, Kings Dominion in Virginia, it opened with a Sky Ride in 1975. However, that Sky Ride had been built by Intamin instead of Von Roll and it had been built specifically for that park. Kings Dominion's Sky Ride only had a height of 80 feet instead of Kings Island's 96 feet and was shorter than Kings Island's as well. The Kings Dominion Sky Ride would close in 1995.
Kings Island's Sky Ride is probably best known for an accident in 1977. While no one was injured, there were plenty of rattled nerves.
April 24, 1977 was chilly, windy and rainy. 45 people were riding the Sky Ride at 4:38 p.m. when 47 mph winds caused a gondola to slip off its cable. A built-in safety feature immediately kicked in and shut the ride down, stranding people on the ride. When mechanics attempted to turn on the auxillery gas power, a mechanical malfunction caused three of the gondolas to jam together at one of the support towers. The 45 riders were stranded in the heavy wind and rain, some of them 96 feet in the air.
Firemen rescue trapped guests on the Sky Ride. Cincinnati Enquirer photo
Firefighters from the Mason Fire Department arrived with their giant cherrypickers, aerial platforms, and construction cranes. Some passengers were rescued within an hour of the breakdown, but the rain, winds, and the park's close quarters immediately presented a challenge. Mason firemen were eventually joined by firemen from the Sharonville, Franklin, Lockland, Loveland and Springdale Fire Departments.
To accomodate the equipment, park officials closed Kings Island two hours early at 6 p.m. All guests were given rainchecks to return later in the year.
By 9 p.m., all but two gondolas had been evecuated. The very last guests to be rescued were rescued at 12:20 a.m. They had been stuck for eight hours over the Enchanted Voyage building. All the guests that had been stuck were given free passes to be used the rest of the 1977 season. Those that were stranded would later say that the experience was "almost unbearable," "frightening," and "unreal."
The Sky Ride appeared in the news again a year later. A gondola on a similar Von Roll Sky Ride in Missouri's Six Flags Over Mid-America fell off its cable and killed three people. Officials at Kings Island did not close their Sky Ride down, saying that theirs was inspected every day with no defects found.
Suddenly, on February 18, 1980, Kings Island officials announced that the Sky Ride would not open for the 1980 season or any season after that, in fact. The ride needed several parts and those parts had become extremely expensive and difficult to obtain from Von Roll. In addition, "The Sky Ride contributed a very small percentage of our total ridership in 1979," explained general manager William Price.
The Oktoberfest station has since been demolished while the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera station was turned into a gift shop. Today, that gift shop is still there as Snoopy Boutique. One of the footers is also still at the park in the Bier Garten. A tribute gravestone for the Sky Ride is brought out during Halloween Haunt.
The Sky Ride gondolas, cables and support towers might have been removed 38 years ago, but the Sky Ride remains in the memories of millions of early Kings Island guests.