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Another family says raft on Schlitterbahn’s Verrückt went airborne on July ride

Woman recalls when friend's harness came off during ride on Schlitterbahn's Verrückt

Erica Conrad of Linwood, Kan., her family and friends rode the Verrückt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park last summer. As the raft carrying her husband, a 12-year-old cousin and a friend neared the end of the ride, the friend noticed that th
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Erica Conrad of Linwood, Kan., her family and friends rode the Verrückt water slide at Schlitterbahn water park last summer. As the raft carrying her husband, a 12-year-old cousin and a friend neared the end of the ride, the friend noticed that th

Another family has come forward saying their raft went airborne on a Schlitterbahn water slide in the days before an Olathe boy died on the ride.

Dawn Gentry of Wichita said she and her daughter Olivia rode the Verrückt water slide in Kansas City, Kan., on July 28. As they approached the slide’s second drop, Gentry said, their raft flew into the air.

“Our boat, 100 percent, went off the tracks,” Gentry told The Star on Wednesday, three days after Caleb Thomas Schwab was killed on the slide. “The boat was airborne and then boom, we landed.”

Workers at the end of the ride were concerned. They rushed to see whether Gentry and her daughter, as well as a man riding with them, were OK.

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Her account echoed that of Jon Powell of Hutchinson, Kan., who earlier told The Star about his family’s raft going airborne about three weeks ago.

“The lifeguards were freaking out,” Gentry said. “They were like, ‘Are you sure you are OK? Seriously, are you OK?’ ... They asked me so many times, it registered to me, ‘Uh, this isn’t the first time this has happened.’ 

The question is, how many times has it happened? And why?

Schlitterbahn declined to respond Wednesday when asked whether top park management knew of the concerns or whether the ride was inspected or adjusted after the rafts went airborne.

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Other riders have reported that they told workers their harnesses came loose or snapped off as they zoomed down Verrückt, at 17 stories the world’s tallest water slide.

Kansas City, Kan., police continued to investigate the Sunday death of Caleb, 10, son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab. A spokeswoman said no information would be released until the investigation was complete.

Much of what is known has come from people at the park that day. Some witnesses, like Melanie Gocke and Jess Sanford, both 16 and from Lincoln, Neb., didn’t see what initially happened, but heard a loud noise and turned to look.

“It sounded like something derailed,” Sanford told The Star on Wednesday.

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The two friends saw a boy’s body coming down the slide — midway down the ride’s second hill — behind a raft with two women inside. They could see a trail of blood in the water behind him.

Both said they saw the boy’s body in the water at the bottom, and could tell his neck was broken.

“I didn’t believe what I was seeing until his friend started screaming for help,” Gocke said.

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Sanford said that young boy cried as medics rushed to help the two women who rode the raft with Caleb. Both reportedly suffered facial injuries, one in the eye and the other in the jaw.

The boy talked about how he and Caleb enjoyed sports together. “He was saying, ‘We played whiffle ball together. We played kickball together,’ ” Sanford said. “He was sobbing.”

Gocke and Sanford wait to hear more about what happened during the ride. Both struggle with the images they saw.

“It’s hard to deal with,” Gocke said. “I can’t stop seeing it in my head sometimes.”

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Laura Bauer: 816-234-4944, @kclaurab

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