Stuck in a pod 550 feet above Las Vegas? There’s a rescue plan for that


Good luck getting off this thing. (David Becker/AP)

In the quixotic race to build the world’s largest observation wheel, the High Roller on the Las Vegas Strip is king — at least for now.

With that distinction comes a terrifying question: What happens if something goes terribly wrong and 1,120 people are trapped on the 550-foot wheel?

Luckily, there’s a plan for that — but it’s not exactly for the faint of heart (or for the acrophobes among us).

“It’s definitely an intense rescue,” Las Vegas Fire Capt. Scott Province told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Province, who leads the “heavy rescue team” for the department, added: “With the wheel, you’re suspended in midair. So, when the wind blows, you spin. You’re out there. … It’s a feeling like you have nothing around you. You’re just out there in the middle of the air.”

In the event of a breakdown of the High Roller, which sits across from Caesars Palace, Plan A is pretty simple: fix it.

No one, not even the emergency-rescue experts, wants to be in a position where they’re forced to evacuate more than a thousand people from 28 giant pods suspended hundreds of feet above ground.


The view from the top of the Las Vegas High Roller. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“It’s much easier to have them fix it than to try to evacuate people off of it,” Clark County Deputy Fire Chief John Steinbeck told The Post. The county firefighters would be the first to respond to a distress call before the 35-person Las Vegas Fire Department heavy rescue team arrives.

Barring some catastrophic Hollywood-style accident, a problem on one pod won’t necessarily endanger riders on other pods, which hold up to 40 people each. And about four pods at any given time can be reached and evacuated using traditional ladder trucks.

If the problem can’t be fixed, Plan B is a stomach-turning evacuation procedure that involves slowly lowering passengers from the structure with rope.

Steinbeck said it would take “a very long time” to get all of the passengers safely to the ground.

At worst, the operation could take two days, the Review-Journal reported.

A passenger with her eyes closed is lowered down to the ground with the help of Singapore Civil Defence Force rescuerw from the capsule of world's largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer after it grounded to a halt in Singapore on December 23, 2008. The world's biggest observation wheel was shut down while Singapore officials investigated a fire and power disruption that trapped 173 tourists for several hours, in the latest incident to hit the attraction. AFP PHOTO/ ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A fire and power disruption stranded 173 people for several hours on the Singapore Flyer observation wheel in 2008. (Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters using ropes and hooks would climb ladders to reach each pod and will lower passengers three at a time. Hooks built into the observation wheel will allow firefighters to rest, sometimes upside down.

It could take up to 40 minutes to evacuate a single pod. And no more than two pods can be evacuated at the same time.

For what it’s worth, Randy Printz, the High Roller’s project manager, told the Review-Journal that a rescue operation is very unlikely.

But they’ve happened on observation wheels in other parts of the world.

A passenger with her eyes closed is lowered down to the ground with the help of Singapore Civil Defence Force rescuerw from the capsule of world's largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer after it grounded to a halt in Singapore on December 23, 2008. The world's biggest observation wheel was shut down while Singapore officials investigated a fire and power disruption that trapped 173 tourists for several hours, in the latest incident to hit the attraction. AFP PHOTO/ ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A passenger on Singapore’s Flyer observation wheel is lowered to the ground during a 2008 rescue. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Before the High Roller, there was the 541-foot Singapore Flyer. It was the tallest observation wheel in the world in 2008 when a circuit problem left 173 passengers stranded for six hours.

A second, earlier incident stranded 70 passengers on the Singapore Flyer.

“They didn’t have a plan, so it became important for us to work with local authorities,” Printz told the Review-Journal, which reported that fire officials began working on a High Roller rescue plan two years ago.

“I just marvel at the expertise of the guys in the technical rescue team and what they do,” Printz told the newspaper, which noted:

In the unlikely event that the big wheel ever freezes in place, riders shouldn’t have to worry about their immediate needs until help arrives. Each pod has compartments stocked with water, food, window shades and a portable toilet.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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