Who really ever thinks about roller coaster accidents? Certainly, not the millions of people who climb aboard roller coasters and other rides in the more than 400 amusement parks across the United States each year.
Roller coasters are all about the screams and the stomach-churning fear as you lurch around the track. These rides are usually just a great way of adding a little adrenaline into your everyday world. It’s a simulated risk, or it’s supposed to be. Every once in a while though, the wrong conditions converge, and the consequences can be deadly. Sure, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an arm, a leg – or their life.
In previous eras, when safety standards were pretty much non-existent, the odd horrific accident wasn’t hard to foresee or understand. But, even in the modern age with its (supposed) increased focus on safety, “human error” enters into the picture and throws a monkey wrench into the works. From faulty training to long overdue maintenance, there are many ways and many elements that can – and sometimes do – go wrong and create the conditions where an accident is just waiting to happen.
Nevertheless, the odds of injuring yourself on a roller coaster, or any amusement park ride, are slim. Out of more than 1.5 billion rides experienced by people each year in the United States, there are less than 1,500 injuries. The IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) puts the risk at 1 in 16 million. That’s not so bad. Just remember to strap in – and don’t leave anything in your pockets that you couldn’t leave behind.
15. The Batman at Six Flags in Georgia, USA
In the summer of 2008, a determined teen in Georgia ignored posted warnings, and scaled fences to enter a restricted area of a roller coaster, only to suffer a gruesome death. Officials never figured out why the 17 year-old climbed over not one, but two six-foot fences, passing by multiple signs that warned the area was not only restricted but dangerous. Some witnesses say the teen was trying to get a hat he’d lost while he was riding the roller coaster. The ride was still going – at speeds of about 50 miles per hour – when he was struck and decapitated as the roller coaster continued its run.
It’s not the first time the area under a roller coaster became the scene of a fatality. In 2002, a 58 year-old groundskeeper was killed when he entered a similarly restricted area under the Batman roller coaster and was struck in the head by the leg of someone on the ride.
14. The Big Dipper at Battersea Fun Fair in London, UK
The Battersea Fun Fair was a tradition with Londoners, and one of its most popular attractions was The Big Dipper, a roller coaster. It was also the scene of the worst roller coaster accident in history.
The Big Dipper was an old style roller coaster with cars and tracks made of wood. On a fateful day in May of 1972, a rope that was part of the mechanism that pulled the cars up to the launch hill of the track snapped. There was supposed to be an anti-rollback mechanism in place, but it failed too. As a result, a chain of roller coaster cars went speeding back downhill to the line-up area where the next set of passengers was waiting. The cars smashed into a wall, killing five children and injuring another 13. The Battersea Fun Fair never recovered from the negative publicity and the park closed two years later.
13. Texas Giant at Six Flags in Texas, USA
The Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags had been newly renovated and was one of the most talked about amusement park rides of the the summer in 2013. In July of that year, however, tragedy struck. The details are particularly nasty when it comes to the death of a 52 year-old woman on the Texas Giant. Witnesses claim to have heard the woman tell park employees that her safety restraint wasn’t properly fastened, but no action was taken. Shortly after the ride began, the woman’s body was seen flipping upside down before she was thrown right out of the car, hurtling almost 100 feet down to a hard landing on the roof of another ride. The fall was said to nearly split her body in half, and the gruesome shower of blood specks and body tissue reached a 75 foot radius.
12. Fujin Raijin II at Expoland in Osaka, Japan
Any sense of irony turned tragic after a fatal roller coaster accident occurred on May 5, 2007 – Children’s Day. Expoland was a thriving amusement park when it opened in 1970 with more than 40 rides and attractions, including the steel roller coaster dubbed Fujin Raijin II. On that day, a broken wheel axle on a car caused a series of them to derail. A 19 year-old student died after her head was dragged along a guardrail for more than 300 yards. The horrendous accident also injured another 19 people. The company running the park was found liable after an investigation revealed that the roller coaster’s axles had not been replaced in 15 years. The park reopened after the investigation but inevitably closed later that year.
11. Mindbender at Fantasyland Amusement Park in Alberta, Canada
Never tempt the gods of fate by calling yourself “the world’s safest roller coaster”. The operators of the Galaxyland Amusement park in Albert, Canada, found that out in 1986. The Mindbender was an innovation in its day, the world’s largest indoor roller coaster sporting a triple loop design. It was housed in the West Edmonton Mall, the world’s largest indoor shopping mall at that point. On that fateful evening in June of 1986, a few missing bolts was all it took to send the last of a four-car train careening off the track at 60 miles per hour. The car smashed into a concrete rail and three people were thrown to the ground. All three died, while another who remained in the car suffered serious injuries. Along with the fatalities, another 19 people were seriously injured in the incident. Luckily, since that date, The Mindbender has been accident free.
10. Derby Racer at Revere Beach in Massachusetts, USA
Ah, how the gods love irony. The Derby Racer, a wooden roller coaster of early twentieth century Boston, racked up two fatalities during its storied history. The Derby Racer was known for its thrilling design that saw two trains speeding around a figure 8 track. In 1911, the CEO of the company that manufactured the Derby Racer was killed while giving a lecture on safety. The accident happened as he lectured the other passengers while standing up in one of the cars and fell to his death. Six years later, a man he fell out of one of the cars while trying to reach for his hat that had fallen off. He fell onto the tracks and was dragged 35 feet, breaking nearly every bone in his body until he was killed.
9. Big Dipper at Krug Park in Nebraska, USA
The trouble with old style wooden roller coasters was – and is – that wood has special maintenance issues. Ignore them, and disaster can be the result, as horrified crowds found out at the Krug Park near Omaha, Nebraska in July, 1930. The incident involved a derailment that sent cars and passengers flying into the air. It became a scandal after investigators found that a series of maintenance defects had directly contributed to the deadly accident. They included loose bolts and rotten wood that gave way along the guard rail, leading to the deaths of four people. This is the deadliest roller coaster accident in U.S. history. The loose bolts caused the release of a brake shoe on one of the cars, leading to the derailment that caused the cars and 23 passengers to plummet 35 feet. Nineteen passengers were injured along with the four dead.
8. The Rat at Loudoun Castle in Scotland
It looks like less than extensive training was to blame for the roller coaster accident that took the life of an 18 year-old on his first day on the job. Back in 2007, Loudoun Castle was a popular theme and amusement park in Scotland. In July 2007, the teenager received one day of training and supervision on how to operate The Rat, as the roller coaster was called. During the boy’s training, his supervisor insisted the young employee was trained on what areas of the ride never to enter, and advised to call for help in the case of malfunction. Despite the instructions he was given, though, the employee got out to push a car that had stopped on the tracks. As the car was loosened, however, it began to move and when the employee tripped, the car took him with it back up the track. Witnesses say that they saw the unlucky young man trying to hang on to the car as it climbed up the roller coaster. He was thrown to the ground as it went around a bend and later died of his injuries in the hospital.
7. Cyclone at Coney Island in Brooklyn, USA
Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster is one of the few surviving wooden coasters in the world. The venerable roller coaster was built in 1927 and over the years, it has racked up an unlucky toll of injuries, many of them blamed on its rickety wooden rail ride. In 2015, a woman was awarded $1.5 million for injuries to her neck and shoulder she said had occurred while riding the Cyclone. In August 2007, a California native died of his injuries five days after literally snapping his neck while he was on the Cyclone. The 53 year-old got off the Cyclone complaining that his fingers were numb. He went to the hospital where emergency room doctors found damage to his neck. They performed emergency surgery but he died of complications. There were six other complaints of back and neck injuries that year alone.
6. The Raptor at Cedar Point in Ohio USA
Here is yet another reason not to value your cell phone more than your safety. In August of 2015, a 45 year-old man was struck and killed by the Raptor roller coaster at the Cedar Point amusement park in Cleveland, Ohio. According to a statement issued by local police, the man had just taken a ride on The Raptor when he hopped a fence to get into the enclosure underneath the ride, an area that is gated and off limits to the public. His purpose? Apparently to retrieve his cell phone that had fallen while he was on the roller coaster.
2015 seems to have been an unlucky year on The Raptor roller coaster. Earlier in June of that same summer, a man required 11 stitches to his leg after trying to squeeze through a loading platform gate just as it was in the process of closing.
5. Hydro at Oakwood Theme Park in Pembrokeshire, Wales
The Hydro was a water roller coaster at the Oakwood Theme Park in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and was a popular summer attraction with locals and tourists alike. That is until a 16 year-old girl was thrown to her death in April 2004 after she slipped through the ride’s restraints in a way that was never proven or resolved. The girl fell about 100 feet and was pronounced dead the following day in the hospital. The park’s owners were eventually fined a whopping £250,000 for negligence after admitting during the investigation that park employees were not in the habit of making sure passengers were properly restrained in their seats before operating the roller coaster. The ride featured a 97 degree drop and involved high speeds. The ride was closed for about a year after the girl’s death and then reopened under a slightly different name.
4. Ride of Steel at Darien Lake in Syracuse, USA
A United States Army Sergeant lost his life on what should have been a fun day at the amusement park in July of 2011. The Sergeant was a veteran of the Iraq War, where he had lost both of this legs in an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) attack. As a double amputee, he should not have been allowed on the roller coaster; the safety barriers of the Ride of Steel assumed that passengers would have the use of both legs. It proved a fatal mistake. As the roller coaster traveled upside down along the track, he slipped out of the restraints, hit the front of the train, and was thrown 150 feet to his death as the ride traveled 50 miles per hour. Posted signs mentioned that riders had to have both legs and park staff were found to be negligent in allowing the man to get into the roller coaster.
3. The Smiler at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, UK
Human error was the culprit at the Alton Towers Resort on a day in June, 2015. The Smiler broke the record for roller coaster inversions with its 14 loops and is one of the most popular attractions at the holiday resort. Sixteen passengers were on board when the roller coaster collided with another car. Previously, a test car had been sent on the track and staff had forgotten to check that it had finished its run before they sent the group through. The train smashed into the stationary car. All sixteen people were injured, four of them seriously. Two people in the group required leg amputations for horrific ‘crush’ injuries. The accident caused a stir in the U.K. when news emerged that the Alton Towers staff didn’t call for emergency services for over 15 minutes and paramedics took another 22 minutes to arrive at the scene. For some of the cases, life saving procedures were even required on site.
2. Tsunami at M&D’s Theme Park in Lanarkshire, Scotland
The Tsunami was an “inverted roller coaster” – meaning the cars were designed as gondolas that dangled below as they sped through twists and turns along the tracks. In June 2016, five of the gondolas detached from the track, crashed into a wall and plunged about 20 feet to the ground. There were several injuries, but no deaths. Eight children and two adults were injured, including two kids with serious injuries; one child almost lost a hand. Witnesses described a horrific scene, with many of the roller coaster passengers trapped in their gondolas and debris strewn allover the ground. The theme park re-opened about a month after the roller coaster crash, albeit without the Tsunami. Published reports noted that the roller coaster had been closed for repairs twice in the weeks leading up to the accident and the safety inspector who certified it just a week before the incident was subsequently banned from working. As of August 2016, the cause of the crash is still under investigation.
1. Starflyer at Star City in Pasay City, Philippines
Suicide by roller coaster? It seems a likely explanation for the mysterious death of a man who plunged from a roller coaster in the Philippines in February of 2009. The Starflyer is another inverted roller coaster and it may seem like an odd – and perhaps uncertain – method of choice for suicide. However, the Filipino man may have simply been taking advantage of what looked like a chance opportunity. A ride attendant reported that, before he got onto the roller coaster, the 37 year-old man had asked her if a fall from one of the cars would kill him. Surprised at the question, she told him it would. He tumbled to his death shortly before the ride would have ended. Park officials insisted that all of the safety harness gear was locked via computer and in fact, the man’s harness was found still properly locked in place after the fall.
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