ANGELS CAMP -- Two girls and a woman were seriously injured when a carnival ride collapsed Friday night at the Calaveras County Fair.
Twenty-one other riders also were hurt and taken by ambulance to area hospitals, said Calaveras County sheriff's Sgt. Dave Seawell. Their injuries were considered less serious, according to Cal Fire officials.
The three most seriously injured were airlifted to hospitals, including two to Modesto's Doctors Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center, according to Lisa Williams, a spokeswoman for the Tuolumne/Calaveras unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. The third was taken to the University of California at Davis Medical Center.
Patsy McDowell, 71, of Murphys, was with her three great-granddaughters at the carnival. She said she was near the ride called the Yo-Yo when she heard a loud, grinding noise and then a "pop" just before the ride collapsed about 6 p.m.
The swing-type ride has arms that fling out from the center as its spins around. The ride's arms are long chains with seats attached at the end, Williams said.
"One of my great-granddaughters was waiting in line to get on the ride when the operator noticed a chain (on the ride) had come loose," McDowell said during a phone interview Friday night from her home. "He tried to stop it, but there was too much momentum to stop it. The whole thing just collapsed into a cloud of dust.
"As it goes around, it gets higher. It was at its highest peak when the collapse happened."
Seawell said the three seriously injured were a 12-year-old girl, a 14-year-old girl and a 20-year-old woman. Sheriff's officials did not release their names.
McDowell said she didn't see what caused the collapse. It also was unclear how many of those injured were on the ride.
She said it happened so fast, there wasn't enough time for anyone to react. They just froze in shock as the ride came crashing down.
She said many of the riders and those who were treated for injuries were children and teenagers. McDowell said some of the riders were swung into a wooden wall that encircles the center of the ride where the machinery is located.
Two of her great-granddaughters, Tara Mosberger, 13, and Juliana Cox, 9, ran to her after the collapse, but her 10-year-old great-granddaughter, Ashly Cox, was missing.
"I thought she was on the ride when it collapsed," said McDowell, who still was shaken by the accident. "I can't thank God enough that he kept my great-granddaughter off that ride. I'm just praying for all those families who had kids on there."
Once she made sure all three great-granddaughters were safe, McDowell said, she ran to help a teenage girl who fell off and injured her legs.
"I just put my arms around that young girl," she said. "There was nothing else I could do. She was yelling that her friends were also on that ride."
Emergency personnel were walking through the crowds to assess the injuries as people screamed for help.
Jessica Norris, an emergency room clerk at Mark Twain Hospital in San Andreas, said the hospital was caring for five patients.
Three arrived by ambulance and two came in on their own. Most complained of knee pain.
"That's the common one," Norris said.
McDowell said she has lived in Murphys for 20 years and attended the Jumping Frog Jubilee each year, but she has never seen anything like what happened Friday.
"I don't think I'll ever see anything like that again," McDowell said. "There (were) just so many people injured."
Laurie Giannini, a spokeswoman for the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, said Friday night "the fair is up and running. The carnival is just closed."
Sheriff's Sgt. Seawell said the carnival rides will close indefinitely until the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Sheriff's Department can conduct an investigation into the accident.
The Yo-Yo has been around almost 30 years and is considered safe, according to Jared Costanza, editor of rideaccidents.com, which tracks amusement park ride accidents.
But in an e-mail Friday night, he cautioned that the ride has to be properly maintained and balanced.
"Operators must make sure that riders' weight is balanced, and that all the passengers are not seated on the same side of the ride," he wrote.
The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee is held each May and was inspired by the Mark Twain story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County."
The Calaveras County fairgrounds is just outside the Gold Rush-era town of Angels Camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about 55 miles northeast of Modesto.
Last year's jumping frog contest drew 4,000 entries. This year's final is scheduled for Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.