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11-year-old boy describes narrowly escaping HVAC system collapse at Gaylord Rockies Resort in Aurora

"In the slide, I thought I was gonna die," said Elliott Schwemlein.
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Posted at 6:15 AM, May 09, 2023

AURORA — Six people were hurt after the heating and ventilation system (HVAC) system collapsed at the Gaylord Rockies Resort pool area in Aurora on Saturday. Two victims were taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Elliott Schwemlein, 11, says he narrowly escaped when the mechanical equipment came crashing down onto the water slide he was in.

"It’s a moment that was so vivid, it feels like it didn’t happen. Feels like it was a dream," the boy told our partners at Denver7.

Elliott was celebrating his brother's birthday with friends and family when a fun morning at the pool took a terrifying turn.

"Halfway down the slide, I hear a big boom and, like, crashing," Elliott recalled. "I started hearing people screaming. In the slide, I thought I was gonna die. I thought it was a bomb."

 It was the sound of the HVAC system crashing down, falling on several guests.

"When I came down, I see all the A/C system on the ground. And there’s a pipe that’s spewing black liquid — it smelled like oil," Elliott said. "The lifeguard was screaming at me to get out of the water."

Elliott's mom, Elizabeth, says her son was visibly shaken up.

"I saw him come out, shaking and crying, saying, 'I almost died, I almost died,'" Elizabeth said. "He told me, 'People are hurt, Mom. People are hurt in the hot tub.'"
 
Elliott and his friend were in that hot tub just before the collapse.

"I thought what if me and my friend decided to stay in the hot tub instead of going on the slides because that’s where most of the injuries happened — the big ones," said Elliott. "That’s the closest I’ve ever been to being seriously injured."

"It was terrifying to think had they all been in a slightly different place, we might not all be OK," said Elizabeth.

While the Schwemleins continue to process what happened, they say their thoughts are with those who weren't as lucky,

"We just keep thinking about the poor folks who are hurt, and our hearts haven't stopped thinking about them," said Elizabeth. "People are just there to [relax] with their families, and things changed from a safe environment to [a] not-so-safe environment so quickly. And so, it was shocking."
 
The Aurora Fire Department says there were around 50 to 100 people in the resort's pool area at the time of the collapse. Eight Aurora firefighters were at the property conducting training at the time and were able to respond quickly.

In a statement, the City of Aurora's Building Department said it is the property owner's responsibility "to address ongoing maintenance and operations issues."

"We appreciate the follow-up questions about the traumatic incident at the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center on Saturday. We remain in touch with Gaylord management as they navigate this difficult situation.

Regarding the response to the incident, Aurora Fire Rescue (“AFR”) provided care to the six injured patients and ensured the scene was secure. AFR is not equipped and does not have the authority to determine the cause of the structural failure that occurred.

The city’s Building Division in Public Works is similarly limited in its authority over incidents on private property. While it completed more than 60,000 inspections at the resort prior to the facility’s opening in 2018 to ensure compliance with the International Building Code (“IBC”), it is the property owner’s sole responsibility to address ongoing maintenance and operations issues on the property. Consequently, it is the property owner’s responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation involving professional engineers and other experts to understand what caused Saturday’s structural incident.

Once the investigation has completed and Gaylord determines the next steps, they will be required to apply for city permits and submit detailed plans developed and signed by licensed professionals to complete any new work or necessary repairs. The city’s Building Division will review and issue the appropriate permits and conduct follow-up inspections to ensure the work meets all IBC requirements."