Thrill-seekers have always been enthralled with amusement parks and roller coasters, especially in earlier days when there weren’t many other outlets of entertainment readily available to the general public. While today’s youth are introduced to virtual reality gaming and wearable jetpacks, the biggest excitement for those from decades ago was always going to the local or county fair.
Yet the mechanics and technology of those times weren’t exactly at the height of ingenuity and safety regulations weren’t even something that was considered. Long before automobile seat belts became mandatory, carnivals and amusement parks were constructing large wooden roller coasters to give the public some much-needed excitement. Needless to say, many of these rides didn’t function properly, and visitors were mostly at the mercy of whatever contraption designers could think of next. The worst examples, like Battersea Park’s Big Dipper ride in 1972 that malfunctioned and killed five children and injured 13 others, were at the end of a long list of incidents that happened due to improperly installed and executed ride attractions.
However, with the world advancing in every facet of daily life, it would seem that amusement rides would ultimately be perfected. Places like Disneyland and Six Flags Great America always manage to churn out bigger and more thrilling attractions, which give the public a sense of security in the safety of these modern marvels.
Yet it’s important to understand that not every safety guideline is foolproof, and even the most advanced attraction is subject to human error or machine malfunction. Check out our list of the 15 most shocking amusement park mishaps, and you might just think a bit harder before going on your next roller coaster ride.
15. Swings Collide With Strong Winds
In 2014, bystanders at Cardiff Winter Wonderland in Wales looked on in horror as parts of an amusement ride began crashing into one another. Cardiff’s Sky Swing is coined the world’s tallest portable swing, circulating at nearly 200 feet in the air. On the date of the incident, not all of the carriages were occupied, and high gusts of wind caused the empty carriages to swing outside of the normal trajectory of the ride. A video of the incident shows the empty carriages swinging wildly and striking other carriages. Riders began screaming to get off, and bystanders were horrified on the ground. The operators of the ride claim that the safety system worked accordingly, shutting off the ride once the wind speed reached above the max speed of ten meters per second. Yet some have claimed that it could have been operator error that allowed visitors to board the ride in the first place, and if the safety system had been working properly then it seemed strange that it took so long for it to shut off. Passengers were left dangling for 15 minutes before being lowered to the ground, and the ride was turned back on again once wind speeds died down.
14. Elastic Cable Snaps In Slingshot Ride
One of the most popular rides in amusement parks are slingshot-inspired rides that feature elastic bungee cords. While most of these types of rides feature a cage-like structure that keeps the riders in place, they are still pretty much at the mercy of the elastic cord it is attached with. In August 2015, two thrill-seekers experienced first-hand what can happen when there is a faulty elastic cord at Luna Park at Cap d’Agde on France’s Mediterranean coast. A witness uploaded the video of the incident, showing the capsule being launched into the air without issue until the moment where one of the elastic cables snapped on the way down. The capsule crashed against the standing structure, but remained secured to the second elastic cord. One of the riders suffered a broken leg, and both were suspended in the cage for an hour before they were rescued by firefighters. A similar incident happened at Mt. Olympus Theme Park & Water Park in Wisconsin Dells, but the cord broke prior to take-off. In both incidents, only one of the cords snapped, but one has to wonder what would happen if both cords snapped on the way up. It gives a whole new meaning to slingshot!
13. Scotland Roller Coaster Derailed And Crashed Into Kiddie Ride
In June 2016, it was a packed day at M & D’s theme park at Strathclyde Country Park in Scotland. One of the park’s most popular attractions, the Tsunami roller coaster, was coined Scotland’s only inverted coaster. Its unique design held the hanging seats under the track, which carried the riders from beneath. The ride could reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour, and during a curve point in the ride, the carriages derailed and struck the superstructure. It came crashing to the ground at about 20 feet up, and landed on a set of toddler motorbikes. Ten people were injured, including eight children, since many of the passengers were between the ages of 10 and 15-years-old. In 2011, the exact same ride malfunctioned during a run, and passengers were left suspended 60 feet in the air. Emergency personnel had to be sent out to rescue each individual passenger during that incident, and many have wondered why the park held so much trust in a ride that seemed to have so many mechanical issues in the past.
12. Death Caused After Trying To Retrieve Cell Phone
Cedar Point is a hugely popular amusement park in north-central Ohio, and attracts people from all over the world. The Raptor is one of its most popular rides, and reaches speeds up to 57 miles per hour. In August 2015, James A. Young was at the park when he lost his cell phone while riding the Raptor. With the roller coaster making several twists and turns, riders are often advised not to bring valuables with them on the ride and bins for the items. A fence is in place for viewers outside of the ride, with a sign marking the area beyond it as restricted. Young hopped over the fence and entered the restricted area to retrieve his missing cell phone, when he was struck by one of the passing trains of the Raptor ride. It isn’t clear whether or not he was struck by the actual train or one of the passengers on the ride, but Young suffered a fatal injury at the age of 45-years-old. Afterward, some have come out to place the blame on the amusement park, saying that there could have been higher fences to protect the restricted area and more bins to offer riders before getting on the roller coasters.
11. Alton Towers Severely Injures After Many Past Problems
Alton Towers Resort in England is an all-in-one attraction that features a large hotel complex, waterpark, and amusement park. In May 2013, the park revealed its latest attraction, The Smiler. Boasting to be the world’s first 14-loop roller coaster, it even held the title of most loops in a roller coaster in the Guinness Book of World Records. In an attempt to increase the hype over the ride, Alton Towers invited a group of journalists to come ride the attraction before it was opened to the general public. During that trip, the ride malfunctioned and left the journalists dangling at a dangerously steep angle. The ride was closed due to technical issues, but it was again thrust into the spotlight in November 2013 when parts of the ride became detached and hit people in the front carriage. Yet the most recent incident in 2015 proved to be the scariest. Two carriages on the ride crashed into one another, leaving four people seriously injured. Riders were trapped for several hours and four people had to be airlifted to nearby trauma centers.
10. Park Worker Dies After Trying To Help Idle Car
In the United Kingdom, the ruins of a 19th-century castle became the site of an amusement park. The Loudoun Castle Amusement Park was first opened in 1995, and was a huge attraction for those in Europe that enjoyed experiencing the castle grounds as well as riding the many rides at the park. Mark Blackwood was an 18-year-old employee who was operating the roller coaster, The Rat, for the first time on July 15, 2007. Although his training specified that he should never enter the ride area and must report any issues to the park’s maintenance department, Blackwood reportedly tried to push a car that was stuck on the ride. Once it began to move again, he was dragged towards the top of the ride. Although he managed to hold on for a time, he ultimately lost his grip during a turn and was thrown off. After suffering multiple injuries, Blackwood was transported to a local hospital and passed away the following day. The park ultimately closed its doors in 2010, and it remains abandoned and in ruins.
9. Roger Rabbit Spin Ride At Disney Traps 4-Year-Old Boy
In September 2000, 4-year-old Brandon Zucker visited Disneyland with his family and rode the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin ride. Disneyland employees did not properly load Brandon into the ride by placing him in a seat that wasn’t proper to his size, and didn’t fully lower the lap bar. He tumbled out of the carriage, at which point the vehicle rolled back over him and folded his body in half. He suffered irreversible brain damage, and battled his injuries for the next eight years. After years of being in and out of the hospital, Brandon finally succumbed to his injuries at the age of 13-years-old. The incident sparked increased focus into safety regulations at amusement parks and created a major investigation by the State Division of Occupational Safety and Health. One of the changes made after the investigation was a sensor-equipped guard around the bottom of each carriage of the ride. Disney ultimately settled out of court, three days before it went to trial, for an undisclosed amount.
8. Sudden Drop Ride Harness Opens Mid-Air
Oftentimes, the biggest appeal of a roller coaster is simply just the feeling that comes to a body during free fall. Recognizing this appeal, rides were created to emphasize only the dropping sensation. Not only did it have an added focus on just the rising and dropping sensation, but it didn’t take up nearly half as much space within an amusement park. In 1999, the Drop Zone Stunt Tower at Paramount’s Great America Theme Park in Santa Clara was one of the pioneers of this new style of roller coaster. Twelve-year-old Joshua Smurphat was on the ride when the harness allegedly popped open halfway through the ride. He was between 50 to 100 feet up in the air, when witnesses reported seeing the harness fly open and the boy fell to his death. One witness account stated that the boy could be seen struggling to stay in his seat, despite the open harness, but to no avail. Other witnesses claimed to hear a strange sound from the braking system, which some compared to the sound the ride made when the harnesses latched and unlatched.
7. Faulty Seat Belt Measures In Disneyland Matterhorn Ride
The Matterhorn is a Disney ride that dates all the way back to 1959, and was meant to simulate the act of bobsledding. The seat belts used on the ride at the time of the incident involving Regena Young were the type that would slide the belt through a buckle fastener. Later, the supplier of the seat belts wound up going out of business, and the park had to replace the seat belts with the snap-in buckle type found in automobiles. Prior to the change, Regena Young was on the Disneyland ride when she fell from her seat and was killed after being hit by an oncoming carriage. The family sued the park since none of the operators of the ride went around the carriages to make sure that all of the passengers had their seat belts fastened properly. After Young’s death, it was discovered that she indeed did not have her seat belt fastened. The Walt Disney Company decided to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum, with many believing the decision was due to the fear of being proved negligent in the incident.
6. Iraq War Veteran Falls Out Of Roller Coaster
Darien Lake Theme Park in New York was a host to a number of different rides at the time of the tragic incident involving Iraq war veteran, Sergeant James Hackemer. The Ride of Steel roller coaster was hugely popular, due to its twists and turns and racing speeds. Sgt. Hackemer was a double amputee after suffering an IED attack while overseas, but was told that the ride had sufficient restraints to properly keep him harnessed. During the ride, Sgt. Hackemer was thrown from his seat and killed while traveling at 50 miles per hour in the front row of the roller coaster. This wasn’t the only incident that involved The Ride of Steel, since it was also the scene of an accident in 1999 involving Mike Dwaileebe. Dwaileebe was riding the same roller coaster at a Six Flags location, when he suffered internal injuries, including numerous rib fractures. The case was eventually settled out of court for an estimated $2.85 million.
5. Superman Ride Cuts Off Girl’s Feet
In 1995, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom introduced a new ride to try and entice visitors to the park. The Superman Tower of Power was a ride designed to create a feeling of rising into the sky and dropping down with incredible speed. The ride rises to 177 feet in the air, and drops 154 feet moving at 54 miles per hour. It quickly became one of the park’s most popular attractions, but sentiments changed after an incident in 2007. At around just 20 feet off the ground, several cables snapped on the ride and began whipping around the passengers strapped to the ride. The cables actually hit some of the riders, and caused injury to their faces as the ride continued to climb. One of the cables wrapped around the legs of a passenger on the ride, 16-year-old Kaitlyn Lasitter. Both of her feet were severed at the ankles, and the girl was immediately taken to a local hospital. Only one of her feet was able to be reattached. Kentucky Kingdom was fined $1,000 from state officials, stating that the ride wasn’t maintained in good condition.
4. Kiddie Roller Coaster Takes Life Of 6-Year-Old
In 1989, 6-year-old Ryan Beckstead, was visiting Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah when he was riding the Puff The Little Fire Dragon ride. The ride was being operated by an inexperienced 18-year-old operator, who reportedly asked the group if they would like to ride again. Ryan was already exiting the ride when it started to move again, and he slipped through the tracks. Ryan’s father frantically hopped the surrounding fence to come to his son’s aid, but the boy was already trying to climb back up through the tracks. At that moment, carriages were making their way across the tracks and struck the boy. By the time the operator was aware of the situation, there was nothing she could do to stop the gravity-driven ride. Ryan was killed, but no criminal charges came as a result of the incident. It was deemed that neither the operator or Lagoon Amusement Park were at fault in the death of Ryan Beckstead, but the park requested the manufacturer of the ride to install additional safety equipment after the incident.
3. Child Decapitated On A Waterslide
The Verrückt slide at the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City is the world’s tallest water slide, and was thrust into the national spotlight after an incident on August 7, 2016. Kansas State Representative Scott Schwab was visiting the park with his family, when his sons decided to ride the Verrückt slide. Nate and Caleb, ages 12 and 10, were planning on riding together, but they didn’t reach the required 400 pound minimum. Instead, they rode separately, with the oldest sibling riding first. Caleb rode with two adults, but it was later deemed that their combined weight still most likely didn’t reach the minimum weight guideline. It’s possible the raft Caleb was on went airborne due to the lesser weight, but some witnesses claimed the Velcro straps holding him in were faulty. While traveling at 65 miles per hour, Caleb was launched out of his seat into the netting and collided with a metal bar that supports the net. His head was decapitated above the shoulders, and he was found in the pool at the end of the ride.
2. Big Thunder Mountain Ride Kills Man
There are a few rides at Disneyland that are iconic to the park, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of them. From the old school railroad cars to the mountain setting, the ride attracts visitors both young and old. Marcelo Torres, a 22-year-old graphic artist, was on the ride in 2003 when a wheel assembly fell off one of the locomotives and caused it to crash. The carriage wedged into the tracks, and forced the train to stop. A giant portion of the ride rammed through Marcello Torres’ chest and head, killing him instantly. Disney released a statement saying, “Our own analysis found that the accident was caused by incorrectly performed maintenance tasks required by Disneyland policy and procedures that resulted in a mechanical failure.” Disney chose to settle outside of court for an undisclosed amount, but the parents of Marcelo Torres revealed that they were giving $500,000 from the settlement to the Brooks College in Long Beach. The funds will be used to provide scholarships for students aspiring to go into animation.
1. The World’s Most Dangerous Park Aimed For A Comeback
Action Park in New Jersey operated from 1978 to 1996, and became the main focus of an online documentary entitled, “The Most Insane Amusement Park Ever.” Six people died at the park, from a park employee killed after his car jumped the track to a man having a heart attack from frigidly cold water to several people drowning in the wave pool. The park owners were notorious for thinking up extreme attractions, including the above-pictured loop water slide that was only used for a month before closing it for good. After selling the park in 1998, the park was remarketed as Mountain Creek ski resort and waterpark. Yet, the original owners repurchased it in 2010, and started to restore some of the old attractions. Although many have come to call the old Action Park, “Class Action Park” due to all of the injuries sustained by visitors, the owners started to reinvent the park and even added new attractions. It is now a favorite destination for thrill-seekers, especially with the new Zero G water slide that boasts the world’s tallest of its kind.
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