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Group stuck on top of SkyWheel at Pier Park for 5 hours

Nathan Cobb
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY BEACH — A group got to look over the Beach for a lot longer than they expected Thursday night.  

According to Deputy Chief Justin Busche of Panama City Beach Fire Rescue, crews were dispatched about 7:30 p.m. to rescue six adults who were trapped at the top of the SkyWheel in Pier Park. 

While no one was injured, it wasn't until about 1:30 a.m. Friday that the last person was pulled from a gondola, Busche added. 

Fire departments called in a crane Thursday night to help rescue six people trapped on the SkyWheel at Pier Park in Panama City Beach.

"They were inconvenienced and uncomfortable a pretty good bit being up there right at five and a half hours, total," he said. 

The PCB attraction, which opened in 2018, stands about 180 feet tall, features 31 gondolas and spins at about 2 mph. It is one of two SkyWheels, the other one being in South Carolina. 

With the department still working to expand its resources alongside an ever-growing city, PCBFR called on the South Walton Fire District for help. Busche added that the neighboring agency has a life-technical-rescue team — something his department is working to build — able to tackle high-angle rescues that he described as "low frequency" but "high risk."

"SWFD is fortunate that we have the specific resources and skill set to aid other agencies during their time of need," Fire Marshal Sammy Sanchez wrote in an email. "We all share a common goal in the fire service — to help keep our communities and our citizens safe."

Sanchez added that his department's "specially trained" group also provides statewide support as part of Florida's Urban Search and Rescue Teams. 

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With Thursday night's target suspended almost 200 feet in the air and the ladder on the local firetruck able to reach only about 100 feet, the two fire departments used a crane from Deep South Crane Rentals. 

Wesley Revis, a crane operator for the company, added that he thought his boss was joking when he got the call  about 9 p.m. to help.

The Panama City resident said that he has heard of his company assisting in past rescues, but that it was his first time being personally involved. For Revis, who said he often hoists crews to the top stories of construction projects, it was just another day in the office. 

"To me, it was just like a typical day at work," Revis said. "This is the kind of stuff we do every day, other than rescuing people."

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According to Rachel Beckerman, marketing and brand manager for SkyWheel attractions, there is an investigation to determine what led to the stall. She believed a nearby power outage caused by a blown transformer was somewhat to blame. 

Beckerman, who said neither SkyWheel has ever had that type of malfunction, added that the stuck riders were "at no point unsafe" Thursday night. 

"The area and their first responders are just amazing, and we cannot thank them enough for all that they do for us," she said. "To know that we have such a wonderful fire department and police department here in Panama City Beach makes it a whole lot easier to breathe at night."