Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Amusement Park Accidents and Incidents


So, it is a part of life: getting hurt; but that doesn't mean it should happen on an idle Tuesday as you enjoy your favorite amusement devices at a local amusement park or vacation-destination; but it does. What this post is offering is a look at some historical ride accidents that have led to INCREASED SAFETY PROCEDURES around the world. My goal/intention is not to scare you (although some things that follow may do just that) or get you to become afraid of your favorite rides, it is merely to bring light to that fact that this industry is becoming one of the safest out there and even as rides get more intense, the chances of you dying on a roller coaster are becoming smaller and smaller, and, as of this posting, you have the following chance of dying on a roller coaster: 1 in 300 MILLION! So rest easy you worriers, you're golden!

Coaster in the Netherlands that was evacuating riders as the ride continued moving.

Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (Defunct)

I am not ignorant enough to believe that this park closed due to this incident, but, in 2007 a young girl boarded Superman: Tower of Power: an Intamin Drop Tower when the cable snapped at the top of the tower and severed the girl's feet. See the video below which contains a news report with live witnesses. This incident caused sweeping investigations of rides of this type as they were shut down across the nation/world to ensure that the ride was not predisposed to this type of malfunction. It turns out this was a freak accident.

Six Flags Magic Mountain

In the photo below, you will see the roller coaster Ninja, where in 2008 a 20-year old man entered a restricted area below the ride and was struck and killed by the coaster train. You will see in a later post how this is a serious concern for parks and why fencing and signage is extremely important in maintaining guest safety.
Ninja @ SFMM

Six Flags Over Texas

Roaring Rapids is the SFOT version of the amusement park staple water attraction of a river rapids ride. Until this incident in 1999, these types of attractions had been relatively accident-free. In 1999, a raft flipped over in 2-3 feet of water injuring 10 and killing one 28-year old woman. Since this incident, the rubber surrounding the base of each raft has been reinforced and the likelihood of a repeat of this accident has been significantly reduced.

Roaring Rapids @ SFOT

Six Flags New England & Darien Lake

Both of these parks have Intamin Hypercoasters with the Superman/Bizarro theme and similar layouts. In 2004, the SFNE version had an incident in which an oversized park guest was ejected from his seat and killed. It was determined that the man was too large for the T-bar restraint and it did not close effectively. This tragic mishap has led to increased safety precautions that have been nothing short of controversial. You may have seen signs or read blurbs in park maps/brochures that explain "guests of exceptional size may not be permitted to ride." This is a precaution that parks have implemented to avoid the chance that another guest lose their life or become injured due to their size making it difficult to restrain them. This is controversial because some guests believe this to be discrimination based on their size. This is where I disagree. Is it controversial to increase a safety measure? No. Is it controversial to put limitations on riding a ride if the nature of the ride permits it? No, and I will explain why. If an overweight guest were to be injured on a ride, they might file a lawsuit. The park is protecting themselves AS WELL AS the guest. And, let's be honest, if you are too big to ride a ride at an amusement park, step on a scale, subtract about 50-100 pounds and then WEIGH THAT. Sorry if that is harsh, but it's your life and your health, and your REALITY, deal with it.

At Darien Lake, there was an incident on their Superman coaster this year in which an Army Sergeant, who was a double leg amputee, fell out of the coaster to his death. This incident was determined to be the cause of operator error as the safety guidelines of the ride include all riders must have BOTH legs in order to ride. As a result of the accident, parks across the world have stepped up safety guidelines in this arena, making sure to protect the safety of their guests and ensure another tragic loss like this doesn't occur again.

Superman: RoS @ SFNE & DL

Cedar Point

Cedar Point may have been voted the "Best Amusement Park in the World" (Amusement Today) 14 years in a row, but the park isn't immune to incidents! In 2007, the Magnum XL-200 had an accident in which 2 trains collided in the station at about 10-15 mph. No major injuries were reported. Also, on two separate occasions, the Wildcat coaster had train collisions, the most serious one occurring in 2008 and sending 9 people to receive medical treatment. The incident involved a train/car rolling backwards down the lift into the station.
Top Thrill Dragster, plagued with mechanical issues its first two years of operations (2003-2004) experienced its most severe malfunction in July of 2004 when, during the launch, the metal cable that pulls the train to the end of the launch track and releases it up the Top-Hat, frayed and sent shards of metal and hot oil into the faces of 4 riders. this incident is important to note because this was the first and less severe of this type of incident to occur as you will watch later in this post.

Magnum XL_200 @ Cedar Point

Top Thrill Dragster @ Cedar Point

Six Flags Magic Mountain

Colossus is a wooden racing coaster famous for its iconic structure featured in many movies and TV shows (National Lampoons' Vacation, Step by Step, et. al.) but, in its inaugural season (1978) the coaster had a double down that was infamous for its sharp, ejector airtime. That season, a park guest was ejected from the coaster and fell to their death. After the incident, the park took drastic action and reprofiled the coaster to remove the double down (one drop that actually is compromised of two) as you can see in the pic below. The train is traveling over the section which is now straight, but you can see under the reprofiled section where the double down used to be. It looks as if the red train is floating over the track.

Colossus (reprofiled) @ SFMM

Kings Island

Kings Island suffered a great loss in 1991. On June 9, 1991, dubbed "Black Sunday," 3 people lost their lives in the park. A guest jumped into a pond to retrieve a lost item and was electrocuted by a malfunctioning water pump. A friend saw this and jumped in to the rescue and was electrocuted. Finally a park employee jumped in to the rescue and was also electrocuted. Ironically, and unfortunately, the rescuers were both killed but the original victim survived. Later that night, a woman boarded Flight Commander (a fun Intamin Pilot ride...see photo) with a Blood-Alcohol-Level of 3.0 (or as I say, 3.WHOA!). As the ride began, she lost consciousness and slipped out of her harness and as her carriage inverted, she fell 60 feet to her death in full view of spectators. The ride closed the remainder of the season and reopened in 1992 and eventually closed due to low ridership (as a result of the fatality) in 1996. (I rode this ride many times and loved it, however.) It is thought that, when the park banned the sale of alcohol in 1993, it was a direct reflection of this incident, although it was never stated as such.

Flight Commander @ PKI

Son of Beast. Sometimes just saying the name can induce pain and panic in some individuals. That would be the case with my brother, who rode the ride at 4:45pm with me on July 9, 2006, when the ride had the largest malfunction in its 6 year history. The ride's structure cracked during the first helix as it was descending into it and caused a severe jolt to the left and then immediately to the right during a section of relatively straight track. As someone who was on the ride I can tell you that this is one painful ride, but this was not normal. As we were dropping into the helix, the jolts loosened my hands from the lap bar and I ended up hitting my hands in my face and caused a bloody nose. My brother held on tightly but, during a quieter section of the ride he screamed, "Stop the ride now!" Upon stopping my brother was crying, a sight I was not accustomed to. He could not get out of the train without my assistance. I carried him out and asked for a park employee to assist him but none could; they were busy helping those who couldn't move at all, due to back or neck injuries, get out. Medical assistance showed up at the exit and my brother was taken to first aid and later the hospital where X-rays revealed a broken rib. I did not seek medical attention. I was one of a handful who were able to get off the ride with minimal injury and who did not need medical attention, save for some water and a tissue. I was lucky; 27 others, were not. I can honestly say, that the removal of the loop on this ride was pointless. The loop was the smoothest part of the ride and did nothing to address the structural integrity of the helix section of the ride, where the accident took place.
The ride reopened to the public one year later without the loop, only to close in 2009 when a woman complained of injuries. The ride has been closed since...thankfully.

Knott's Berry Farm

Xcelerator's cable frayed in 2009, just like Top Thrill Dragster, however; there is POV video of the incident, taken from on-board cameras that capture video of your experience for purchase after you ride. Be warned, the video is terrifying.


I have provided some photos of roller coaster derailments...a rare occurrence on coasters. The first is of a stand-up coaster called Fujin Rajin II in Japan at a park called Expoland. The incident happened in 2007, and the park closed in 2009 due to a lack of customers following the incident. Japanese culture takes great issue with things like this and the park management never could recover.

Fujin Rajin II @ Expoland

Expedition GeForce @ Holiday Park (no injuries)

Wild Thing @ Valleyfair (no fatalities)


More injuries are reported on inflatables than ANY coasters at ANY park! Check out the video below to see what happens in a gust of wind to these inflatables. Be careful when using these devices and please supervise your children closely!

I hope this post hasn't scared you into avoiding coasters, rides, or amusement parks. Just be informed, be safe, and pay attention to any and all posted or communicated safety guidelines. They are there for YOU not for them.


ParkImpressions said...

Very nice article, Steven! Thorough and well-written. I especially liked reading your account of the SoB incident.

Steven Potts said...

I was told that left out Disney accidents by a reader. There is a reason. Disney theme park accidents are typically results of pre-existing medical conditions of the park guest and not from the rides themselves, save for one of their rides...Mission:Space. This ride has had at least 100 injury/illness reports since its installation in the mid 2000's. Personally, I would never board a ride that contained "barf bags" or had air-conditioning vents to prevent motion sickness. That's just torture if you ask me...

Post a Comment