SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — Riding the Jet Star roller coaster as a girl vacationing at the Jersey shore, Nicole Jones said there was always that one breath-catching moment when the passenger cars swerved toward the ocean, as if threatening to dump riders into the surf.
When Superstorm Sandy hit last October, it was the roller coaster itself that plunged into the waves off the amusement pier where it had been anchored for decades.
Work crews, making better progress on Tuesday than anticipated, began tearing down the remains of the roller coaster and placing them on a huge storage barge, which was expected to carry away the last remnants of the beloved ride within 48 hours. About half of it was gone by mid-afternoon.
The image of the Jet Star, sitting in the ocean, was perhaps the most famous and enduring image of Superstorm Sandy. It appeared hundreds of times in media accounts and graced T-shirts, hoodies and car magnets, sold by the numerous charities raising money for storm victims.
"It was always a thrill. It didn't matter how many times you went on it," said Jones, now 21, who grew up in northern New Jersey but recently moved to the shore, where she was a regular visitor during the summers from the time she was 5. "It was that scary moment when it went around the curve at the top, and you felt like maybe you were going to fall in the ocean. But then somehow you never did.
"It's heartbreaking to see it like this," she added.
The ride is privately owned by Casino Pier, one of two amusement piers in Seaside Heights that were devastated by the Oct. 29 storm. Funtown Pier, at the southern end of the boardwalk, was so badly damaged it cannot open this summer, but will be back in 2014.
Casino Pier is being rebuilt and will include at least 18 rides this summer, including a new pendulum ride called The Superstorm, in defiance of Sandy.
The coaster's removal was delayed for months while the company wrangled with insurers and contractors over a rare engineering feat: Exactly how DO you snag a roller coaster out of the sea?
In the end, they came up with a fairly simple solution. The company hired Weeks Marine, an experienced maritime contractor, to bring a barge bearing a giant crane with the same sort of grasping claw featured in miniature in so many Seaside Heights arcades, where contestants maneuver the device and try to capture a stuffed animal or sports jersey as a prize.
Tuesday morning, shortly after Great Britain's Price Harry had wrapped up a brief visit to the boardwalk as part of a U.S. tour, the crane roared to life and began grasping and wrenching loose twisted sections of metal track, dropping them onto the barge for later removal.
Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers said the wind and weather had to be just right for the job — and were expected to be over the next 48 to 72 hours. Work would progress around the clock until the last of the coaster is gone.
The project also will remove three other rides that fell from the pier and into the ocean during the storm, but have been submerged and out of view since then, said Toby Wolf, a spokeswoman for the pier's owners. The Stillwalk Manor, a haunted house-type ride; The Centrifuge, and the Log Flume all plunged off the pier and into the waves.
A fifth ride that fell from the pier, the Music Express, landed on the beach and was salvaged a few days after the storm, Wolf said.
The boardwalk itself is nearing completion, and the mayor promises it will be done by Memorial Day weekend. The section of boardwalk upon which Prince Harry walked on Tuesday was just finished over the weekend by workers hastening to prepare for his visit.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC