LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — A terrifying plummet in a tram down a lakefront hillside left several people injured over the weekend, and a local fire chief is questioning why the commonly used devices aren't regulated.
On Saturday, July 14, three adults and four children ages 8, 8, 10 and 12 plummeted down a hill in a tram with no way to stop, due to a malfunction.
Gravois Fire Protection District Firefighters were toned out at 4:54 p.m. on Saturday, to the location on Pistol Point Loop, located at the end of O Road in Laurie. According to Gravois Fire Chief Hancock, when the tram reached the bottom of the hill, it slammed into the stops, ejecting all passengers.
Emergency personnel arrived on the scene to find seven passengers at the bottom of a steep hill with injuries. “We performed quick triage on the victims that were mobile and not seriously injured,” Chief Hancock said.
Michelle Reeves, 48, sustained serious injuries to the head and a fractured vertebra. A Staff for Life helicopter was requested but was unavailable due to inclement weather.
Because of the steep terrain, emergency personnel transported Reeves to a Missouri State Water Patrol Boat. She was then transported to a waiting ambulance at the Millstone Condominiums, located next to the home where the tram malfunctioned. The others were treated and released at the scene. They later sought medical attention on their own. All six passengers suffered lacerations and bruising.
According to Chief Hancock, a second air flight service offered assistance, but by the time the call was received, the ambulance was only 10 minutes away from the hospital.
Chief Hancock reported that he did not know the cause of the tram's malfunction, or if trams have to be inspected, or permitted, at the Lake of the Ozarks. “That tram had been there a long time,” he mused.
According to Missouri Department of Public Safety Communications Director Mike O’Connell, the state of Missouri does not regulate trams, and any regulation would be set by the municipality or county in which the tram is located. “The state has nothing to do with what a local community determines they want to do as far as the regulation of trams,” O’Connell said.
The state does regulate certain amusement rides and commercial modes of transportation. An amusement ride is defined in Missouri statute.
“I believe there does need to be some type of insight on any form of transportation for safety purposes,” Chief Hancock said. “Some private trams are homemade and built with a kit."
According to Chief Hancock, a homeowner’s association could adopt regulations pertaining to trams within their subdivision. “And a municipality has the ability to adopt a code in totality,” Chief Hancock explained. “A fire district is not allowed to invoke comprehensive codes. The only codes we can enforce are those adopted by the city or county, that are related to fire safety. Even if codes were adopted, the trams already in use would be grandfathered in, unless they were expanded or changed in some way.”
Osage Beach Fire Marshal Ed Nicholson said there have been several unreported tram incidents in his district, and trams do not have to be built to a nationally recognized standard. “We recommend that all trams be inspected annually by a private engineer,” Fire Marshal Nicholson advised.
2004 Tram Accident at the Lake of the Ozarks
According to the website wcfcourier.com, on June 29, 2004, four people from Iowa were hospitalized following a weekend accident in which a privately-owned tram broke loose, plunged 170 feet down a hill, and crashed into Lake of the Ozarks. The tram was used to transport people from a house at the 28-mile marker on Lake of the Ozarks to a dock on the water's edge, authorities said. The tram was making its way down the 287-foot hill when it broke loose, authorities said. The tram's backup system also failed, according to Cpl. Nick Humphrey of the Missouri State Water Patrol at the time. A fifth person jumped out of the tram as it was rolling down the hill and declined medical treatment, authorities said.
1990 Tram Accident at the Lake of the Ozarks
Another tram accident was recorded on the LA Times website, in 1990, where a lakeside tram plunged out of control 120 feet down a hillside, hurling four passengers into the Lake of the Ozarks. One person's neck was broken, authorities said. All four Osage Beach residents aboard, ranging in age from 63 to 80, were injured. The tram, which had operated less than six weeks and was operated by Swiss Village Restaurant, hoisted passengers up and down a 45-degree incline from the lakeside to the restaurant.