It wasn't just a branch that left riders of Magic Mountain's Ninja roller coaster hanging yesterday.

It was an entire, 30- to 40-foot-tall pine tree, Peter Melton of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) told us. As many as four people suffered minor injuries — two of them were hospitalized — when the tree fell onto the monorail track about 5:55 p.m. Monday, authorities said. Twenty-two people were stranded, and it took rescuers three hours to get the last person down.

The big question now is whether Magic Mountain could have done anything to prevent the accident:
The investigation is ongoing, Metlon said, but so far it doesn't look as if much could have been done: Inspectors usually focus on “clearance,” he said — ensuring that branches or other objects are not reachable by riders.

That doesn't really apply to an object that reached them, he noted.

Still, Cal/OSHA has officially asked Magic Mountain to hire a certified arborist to investigate the reason the tree came down, Melton said.

For now the circa-1988 ride is off limits for park-goers, and it will remain that way until Cal/OSHA investigators are satisfied that it's safe, he said.

The tree hit the first car yesterday and derailed the seven-car ride, which nonetheless remained attached to the monorail track, Melton said. Then the tree came to rest on the sixth car, he said.