SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. - It built an early reputation as a boardwalk thrill ride, but will be remembered as a symbol: the roller coaster that dropped into the Atlantic Ocean.
On Tuesday, as people watched from the decks of a pizza joint and a shuttered tattoo parlor, a soaring crane on a barge began unceremoniously taking apart the mangled Jet Star, still partially submerged where it has sat since Hurricane Sandy.
And in what seemed like no time at all, not long after Prince Harry left, the image that has defined the impact of Sandy at the Jersey Shore began to disappear, twisted track by twisted track, like a beach eroding before your eyes.
"This is more heartbreaking than anything," said Kasey Serafin, 53, of Toms River, who recalled sitting in a booth decades ago selling tickets on Casino Pier. "Watching them take it down like this is - I can't explain it - real. Now it seems real. I'm tearing up."
The Casino Pier folks said they had a new ride ready that they have dubbed "Superstorm."
They said they hoped it would be a new symbol of resilience after the storm, though some observers wondered whether a pendulum ride that takes people 360 degrees around would truly be the proper way to remember Sandy.
"They should have just left the roller coaster where it was as a symbol," said Ronnie Abbott of Normandy Shores, "rather than bring in a new ride." Officials said that they feared people would try to climb or swim to the coaster if it remained and that it would be a hazard. "It's so very sad," Abbott said, "and there's still so much to do."
People rubbernecked quietly, taking pictures and video with mixed emotions as the Weeks Marine barge did its job.
Also lost under the waves and yet to be recovered are three other rides: the Stillwalk Manor, Log Flume, and Centrifuge. The Music Express washed up on the beach not long ago.
At a news conference, Mayor Bill Akers expressed his own twisted emotions. He had talked about wanting to keep the coaster in the ocean as a tourist magnet and lasting symbol of Sandy.
"I was the biggest idiot in the world," he recalled. "We knew it needed to come down. I feel like my emotions are running as raw as they can. I know what still lies ahead."
As if to underscore that challenge, just after work began, black smoke started billowing from the north over the beach, and fire trucks could be heard racing.
It turned out to be a boat fire in Normandy Shores, with a 68-year-old man burned on his hands, but it was enough to bring people - the first responders at least - back to reality from their brush with royalty and with mythic-roller-coaster dismantling.
The mayor was hoping to retain a piece of a track for the town, but hasn't heard for sure. Casino Pier will keep some gnarled track for a monument. Roller-coaster enthusiasts were hoping parts of it would be sold (doubtful). The flag at the top of the pier - put there by a rogue coaster climber - will go to the police department for evidence.
"I chose to look at it in a positive way," Akers said. "It's another step in what needs to be done. There's a lot of people still hurting. This has taken us worldwide."
He had a message for the people of New Jersey as well: Keep vacations local. "I would like to say, Jersey support Jersey."
The dismantled coaster, built about a decade ago, was the replacement for the original Jet Star. The pier dates to 1960 and has been remodeled several times.
While the message was that the Seaside Boardwalk and Casino Pier would be open for the summer, Pier spokeswoman Toby Wolf acknowledged that only the lower half of the pier closest to the Boardwalk - where the children's rides were - would be open this summer.
The pier is trying to bring a mixture of about 18 rides to the lower half. There is still no power to the pier itself, although the pace of rebuilding the pier decking and the Boardwalk throughout town has accelerated.
Watch a slideshow of the roller coaster coming down at inquirer.com/coasterEndText