"Oh my God, we feel absolutely horrible for the families," he said. "I'm not used to this. This doesn't happen. I don't know how to react. I tried to sleep last night, but I couldn't. I just feel so horrible for them, about the whole thing. I wish I could turn the clock back. "
The N.C. Department of Labor is investigating the accident, spokesman Neal O'Briant said.
"We're looking at the mechanical equipment and the operation of it to try to determine what happened," he said. Investigators will also interview witnesses.
The department inspected the rides before the fair opened, he said. Ride operators are supposed to do three daily operational checks and record those in a log, he said.
From July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012, there were 11 accidents on amusement rides in the state and of those, all of them were "patron error" — meaning it was the customer's fault, O'Briant said.
Television station WRAL in Raleigh quoted witnesses as saying several people were thrown off the ride and that some were unconscious.
A witness identified as Caleb Norris told WNCN television that he heard a crashing sound just after getting off the Vortex. He turned around and saw two people lying face down. Norris also said he saw the ride operator fall to his knees and start crying.
The accident occurred shortly before the fair was shutting down for the night. Long said the fair would reopen on Friday as scheduled. It closes Sunday.
In 2002, a ride operator at the fair was killed when he was struck by the ride while it was still in operation.
Associated Press writers Mitch Weiss and Skip Foreman in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
Get A Chance to Earn £87/h - start today! Make Money 30 mins from now!