9 May 2009

Statue of Liberty's crown to re-open

6:59 am on 9 May 2009

The crown of the Statue of Liberty, which has been closed to the public since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, will reopen to visitors on 4 July, US Independence Day.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said a maximum of 10 people would be able to occupy the crown at any time, allowing for 30 visitors an hour, or 50,000 a year in the initial phase. A lottery will choose who will go to the crown.

The museum gallery and observation deck at the landmark's base, which were also closed after the September 11 attacks, were reopened to the public in 2004, but access beyond that point remained prohibited.

The National Park Service closed the crown because access to the top of the statue is limited to a narrow stairwell with a handrail on one side and in the event of an emergency, there is no quick exit.

A symbol of freedom and democracy and a prominent draw for tourists, the statue was one of the first sights seen by millions of immigrants who arrived in New York harbour in the 19th and 20th centuries.

While the number of visitors to Lady Liberty, a gift from France in 1886, has fallen in the past eight years, numbers are rising again.

About 3.2 million people visited the statue in 2007, up from 2.5 million in 2006 but below the 3.6 million in 2000, the park service said.