A woman plunged 30 feet to her death while riding a chairlift at the popular theme park in Tennessee, officials said. Jessica Rhea Ford, 40, was found dead beneath a chairlift ride at Anakeesta Theme Park near Gatlinburg, according to WVLT. Ford's "possible cause of death" was determined to be an "apparent suicide."
The City of Gatlinburg said that they are continuing the investigation as an apparent suicide, in part due to witness statements holding that the victim jumped from the chairlift. The incident happened in front of several visitors at the park. According to several park visitors, they were also told not to look down when riding the ride, WVLT said.
According to witnesses, Ford fell on Thursday night around 7:30 p.m. and did not have her safety railing in place when she plunged around 30 feet into the 60-foot ride. The Gatlinburg Fire & Rescue Department responded to the scene at 7:41 p.m. for an incident on the park's chairlift. Ford's body was found shortly thereafter.
However, it is now being said that Ford committed suicide and there was no issue with the chairlift. Officers from the Gatlinburg Fire & Rescue Department pronounced the woman dead at the scene, they said in a statement.
Ford's "possible cause of death" was determined to be an "apparent suicide," the statement said. "Multiple witness statements ... corroborated that the individual jumped from the chairlift," the statement said.
In order to enter and exit the park in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where all of the attractions are located on top of a mountain, guests must ride a chairlift.
"A tragic incident occurred this evening. 911 was called immediately. Our hearts are with the family of the deceased," Anakeesta said in a statement.
Accident or Suicide
The deceased's body was brought in for an autopsy on Thursday night, according to the police, and is still being inspected. The office stated that they are unable to provide any additional details regarding the cause of death until the matter has been thoroughly investigated although they now believe that Ford committed suicide.
According to Jeffrey McConnell, the woman fell about three-quarters of the way up when he, his fiance, and their three kids were enjoying in the park. After she fell, the ride mysteriously continued, according to McConnell.
"You could see the concern on everyone's face that was getting on," another witness, Jay Duero, told the station.
The ride's most recent permit was slated to expire on August 4 and the last inspection took place in late April. The chair lift, which was shut down on Friday, will undergo a mechanical inspection by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, according to WBIR.
According to officials, the state probe might last up to eight weeks.
However, the park also believes that it wasn't an accident but suicide. "Our deepest sympathies are with the family. The chair lift was thoroughly inspected 60 days ago by an outside inspector, and was again reviewed by our lift team after the incident," it said in a statement.
"From initial review of the incident, it appears the death was not related to the operation of the lift.
"The lift was found to be in safe working order," Anakeesta said. "We mourn this tragic loss of life. Our deepest sympathies are with the family."