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Theme park death: Tennessee woman’s body found under chairlift

By Mary Alice Royse

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    GATLINBURG, Tennessee (WSMV) — A woman died at Anakeesta on Thursday after jumping from a chairlift, according to Gatlinburg officials.

City officials told WVLT that the Gatlinburg Fire and Rescue Department responded to the theme park around 7:41 p.m. regarding an incident on the park’s chairlift.

Woman found dead under chairlift in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; witness says she fell When crews arrived, they found a woman on the ground under the chairlift. She was pronounced dead at the scene, according to city officials.

“A tragic incident occurred [Thursday] evening. 911 was called immediately. Our hearts are with the family of the deceased,” Anakeesta Vice President of Marketing and Sale Michele Canney said in a statement.

On Friday, the Gatlinburg Police Department said it appeared the incident was a suicide after talking with witnesses who saw the woman jump from the chairlift. Police said identified the woman as 40-year-old Jessica Rhea Ford of La Vergne, TN.

The incident remains under investigation. The City of Gatlinburg released a statement about the incident on Friday. They said authorities took several ideas from witnesses that corroborated that the woman jumped from the chairlift.

Anakeesta also released a statement about the incident. They said they operated the chair lift long enough to allow guests on it to exit. They then shut it down in “an abundance of safety to investigate the incident.” They then used the transportation fleet to take guests to the exit at the mountaintop.

Theme park officials released the following statement following the event:

The chair lift was thoroughly inspected 60 days ago by an outside inspector, and was again reviewed by our lift team after the incident. 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. The State of Tennessee inspected the lift Friday, July 29th and they have approved the reopening of the lift. The lift will resume normal operations with park opening on Saturday, July 30th.

We mourn this tragic loss of life. Our deepest sympathies are with the family. – Anakeesta theme park officials

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said its chief elevator inspector would conduct a mechanical inspection of the aerial lift and review other aspects of its operations.

The department said it could take up to eight weeks for the unit to complete its investigation, saying it will not release any details to the public until the investigation is closed.

Anakeesta announced Friday morning that the chairlift was closed. However, the park said its Ridge Rambler trucks would be bringing people up to the park in the meantime.

According to state inspection reports, the Anakeesta lift was last inspected on April 21, 2022. The latest inspection report said everything complied with applicable codes, and previous inspection reports from the past two years reported no issues.

The state said Anakeesta’s lift operating permit expires on August 4, 2022, but a new license has been approved.

This incident remains under investigation by the Gatlinburg Police Department at this time and more information will be released as it is available.

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