Disneyland was the brainchild of the legendary Walt Disney. After taking his daughters to theme parks in the 30s and 40s, Disney decided to build the ultimate theme park. He bought up a 160-acre parcel of land near Anaheim in 1953 and put his plan into motion. Disneyland opened to much fanfare on July 17th, 1955. In its first year of operation, an estimated 1 million visitors entered the family-friendly park. That annual number has increased exponentially over the past 60+ years. It is estimated that 18.28 million people visited the Happiest Place on Earth in 2015.
The Disney brand was already extremely successful prior to the park’s opening but it is estimated that the Disney Corporation sees over $55 billion in annual revenues while it employs nearly 200,000 people. There are Disney theme parks and resorts all over the world. These parks aren’t just for kids either. There are plenty of attractions that appeal to people of all ages.
Naturally, the Happiest Place on Earth is not immune to criticism. Park employees must follow strict rules and, at one time, even had to wear used underwear as part of their official uniforms. Yuck!! Disney has also come under fire at times for not being overly diligent with their safety practices. You may be shocked to learn that there have been quite a few serious incidents and several deaths at Disneyland. Here are the 15 most disturbing Disneyland accidents.
15. Woman Suffering From Complications With Brain Tumor Sent For Another Ride
Space Mountain, now called Hyperspace Mountain, has been one of the more popular attractions at Disneyland since opening in 1977. Every day, thousands of people enjoy the thrill of this space-themed ride. However, it wasn’t such a pleasant experience for a 31-year-old guest who died in 1979 after going for a ride on Space Mountain. Upon arrival at the platform, the woman had become very ill and was unable to exit the ride. Employees asked her to remain seated while they removed her car from the track. Unfortunately, other ride operators were unaware of the situation and sent the poor lady around for another ride. When she arrived at the platform the second time she was barely conscious. She was taken to a hospital, fell into a coma, and passed away about a week later. The coroner found that a heart tumor in the woman had dislodged and entered her brain. Disney was not found liable for her death.
14. Teen Falls Off The Matterhorn
The Matterhorn Bobsleds are two roller coasters that intertwine as they race around a man-made mountain that resembles the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. Construction was completed in 1959 and it was the world’s first steel roller coaster. The ride has gone through several upgrades and refurbishments in its 60+ years of operation. While there had been several injuries reported in the first 9 years of Disneyland’s existence, it wasn’t until 1964 that the inevitable first fatality happened. On May 15, 1964, a teenage boy died of injuries that he sustained after he fell out of his bobsled while riding the Matterhorn roller coaster. He had apparently stood up after his co-passenger had unbuckled the teen’s restraint. Sadly, a similar event almost 20 years later claimed the life of a 48-year-old woman.
13. Stage Technician Falls To His Death On The Hyperion
The Hyperion is a large theater in Disney’s Hollywood Land that can accommodate nearly 2,000 people. Construction was completed in 2001 and several musicals based on Disney films have been held there since. A 36-year-old stage technician by the name of Christopher Bowman died of injuries he received when he fell off of a catwalk and plummeted 60 feet. He was reaching outside the platform railing to work on a light when he fell. He was wearing a safety harness but didn’t have it attached to anything. Bowman initially survived the fall but remained in a coma until his death about a month later.
After an investigation by occupational safety officials, Disney was fined $350 because the man’s harness wasn’t certified and they were also fined $18,000 for not providing the worker with a safe platform.
12. Stunt Rehearsal For Indiana Jones Leads To Death
The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular has been entertaining Disneyland guests since 1989. In this exhibition, stuntmen recreate stunts that are featured in the Raiders of the Lost Ark series. The attraction, which happens at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, runs several times each day. There have been a few injuries sustained by stuntmen during its run. OSHA had once fined Disney $1,000 when three workers were injured due to malfunctioning equipment. It was a lot more serious when, in 2009, 30-year-old stuntman Anislav Varbanov died after being severely injured while practicing a tumbling roll in which he was to jump into the air and dive over another stuntman before tucking and rolling onto a mat. He was taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead. The autopsy found that Varbanov died as a result of a spine fracture in his neck.
11. 33-Year-Old Dies On Christmas Eve After Accident On The Sailing Ship Columbia
The Sailing Ship Columbia is a replica of the first American ship to travel around the world. On this ride, passengers are taken on a 12-minute tour of the Rivers of America on the 110-foot long vessel. Tragedy struck on Christmas Eve 1998 when a steel cleat that secured the ship to the dock came loose and struck two guests in the head as well as injuring an employee. One of the guests, 33-year-old Luan Phi Dawson died two days later as a result. Disney took quite a bit of well-deserved criticism for the accident. The company’s policy of not letting outside medics into the park to avoid spooking customers may have prevented the guest from receiving proper care. Also, the worker in charge of the ship at the time was not properly trained. It was the first death at Disneyland that was not caused by a guest’s negligence.
10. 19-Year-Old Man Falls To Death During Graduation Celebration
Grad Night is an event for high school seniors that is held at Disneyland each year. It features live bands, dance parties, fireworks, and all sorts of other fun activities such as unlimited rides on popular attractions. In June of 1966, Grad Night took an ugly turn when a 19-year-old man was killed in a gruesome, and totally avoidable accident. Thomas Cleveland sneaked into the park by climbing over a 16-foot fence. He then planned climb onto the Monorail track and drop into the main park. A security guard saw him on the track and shouted warnings of the approaching train. Cleveland attempted to avoid the train but he was struck and dragged for several feet. The security guard, who helped clean up in the aftermath, said that he had to “hose the kid off the underside”.
9. Winnie The Pooh Engaged In Lawsuit Related To Assault
Thankfully, there were no deaths in this bizarre incident but it still deserves a spot on the list of disturbing Disneyland accidents because, well the idea of Winnie the Pooh slapping a kid around is a little disturbing. This incident took place in 1978 when 10-year-old Debbie Lopez wanted to hug Winnie the Pooh, one of the many costume characters that roam the park. It seems that little Debbie walked up from behind Pooh Bear and tugged at his back. According to the girl’s family, the lovable bear swung around and assaulted the girl with a firm backhand that left the girl with recurring headaches and even brain damage.
The case went to court where Robert Hill, the man in the Pooh costume, donned his suit and demonstrated that it was physically impossible to have done such an un-Pooh-like deed. The jury took less than 30 minutes to find in Pooh’s favor.
8. 18-Year-Old Crushed By The PeopleMover
The PeopleMover was an elevated transport ride that operated between 1967 and 1995. Visitors would climb aboard and be taken for a tour of Tomorrowland. It was closed after Imagineers deemed the ride outdated. After just a month of the PeopleMover being in operation, a teenage boy was killed when he attempted to jump onto another car while the ride had entered a tunnel. He lost his balance, fell onto the track, and was struck by an oncoming train of cars. He was crushed by the wheels and his body was dragged for several hundred feet. A similar incident occurred in 1980 when an 18-year-old male tried to jump between cars and was crushed to death in the process. Both of these horrible tragedies were entirely avoidable.
7. Employee Run Over By Float
38-year-old Javier Cruz was the father of two and had been employed at Disney for 8 years. He had started as a janitor but worked his way into becoming a costume character. On February 11th, 2004, Cruz was just about to enter the public area dressed as the character Pluto to take part in the Magic Kingdom parade when the unthinkable occurred. Cruz was struck and killed by the Beauty and the Beast float. He caught his foot under the float and the float operator couldn’t see Cruz to stop in time. Although the incident happened out of the view of the park guests, several co-workers witnessed the incident. His body had to be removed by a forklift. After an investigation into the incident, the OSHA slapped Disney with a heavy fine.
6. Custodian Falls To Death While Cleaning The Skyway
Raymond Barlow, a 65-year-old part-time custodian was cleaning the Skyway loading platform on February 14, 1999. As per usual, the ride was shut down while he performed his tasks. Not being aware that the man was up there, employees turned on the ride. Fatal mistake. Seeing the impending danger unfolding, the poor custodian tried to do his best action hero impersonation by grabbing a passing gondola to avoid being hit by an oncoming car. He dodged the rushing car and was left hanging on for dear life but was unable to climb inside the gondola. Unfortunately, after hanging on for about a minute, the man was unable to maintain his grip and fell 40 feet into a flower bed below. He was airlifted to hospital but died of his injuries a short time later.
5. America Sings Malfunction Leads To Worker Getting Crushed
In 1974, Deborah Stone was about her enter her freshman year at Iowa State University. In order to save for her college tuition, Deborah got a job at Disneyland. She ended up working at an attraction called America Sings which had only been open for a couple of weeks. The attraction featured walls on stage that rotated and moved towards each other. During an intermission of the show, a guest from a theater next door heard a scream. Upon arriving on the scene, they discovered Deborah’s crushed and lifeless body between two of the moving walls.
In the aftermath, Disney installed sensors to warn operators if someone was too close to the wall. They also installed breakaway walls to avoid a similar accident. If you are into the supernatural thing, some people claim to have seen her ghost near where she died.
4. Worker Drowns In It’s A Small World
This tragedy occurred in Disneyland Paris when a cleaner was working at the It’s a Small World attraction. Things can go horribly wrong even if there are safety measures in place to prevent particular incidents from happening. Even the buddy system can fail if both go missing. In this case, a 53-year-old worker of a park subcontractor was doing his cleaning job on the water-based ride when Disney employees accidentally turned on the ride. Despite a tagging system that is designed to prevent such a thing, it is believed that the man was not familiar with protocol and the Disney employee that activated the ride did not know the worker was there. The man was badly injured when he got stuck under one of the boats in the narrow flume. He was airlifted to hospital but succumbed to his injuries.
3. 18-Year-Old Dies After Sneaking Into The Rivers Of America
The Rivers of America attraction has existed since the park opened in 1955. In the middle of the waterway is Tom Sawyer Island which is accessible by several water crafts that travel the river. The river claimed the life of an 18-year-old boy in 1973. The boy and his 10-year-old brother had hidden out in a restricted area and came out of hiding after the island was closed. After having the attraction to themselves for a while they decided they wanted to leave. The only problem was that there was no way to get across the river unless they wanted to risk getting into trouble by alerting staff. Because the younger of the two couldn’t swim, the older one tried to swim across the river with his little brother riding on his back. Sadly, the plan failed. The 18-year-old drowned and was found the next day. The younger brother survived by dog paddling until he was rescued by park staff.
2. One Dead And 10 Injured Following Railroad Accident
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a western-themed roller coaster ride that opened in 1979. Passengers, pulled by a locomotive, are taken through tunnels, up hills, and through a canyon. Things went horrifically wrong in September of 2003 when a car derailed killing a 22-year-old man and injuring 10 others. It was determined that improper maintenance was to blame. An axle on the locomotive came loose as the train entered a tunnel. The axle jammed against the brakes which led to the locomotive becoming airborne and hitting the tunnel’s ceiling. The locomotive crushed the victim when it fell on top of the car he was in. Investigations found that Disney’s cost-cutting measures with respect to maintenance were a large factor in the accident. The man’s family received a sizeable settlement a few years later.
1. Rivers Of America Claims A Life On Grad Night
In June of 1983, Philip Straughan and a friend were celebrating their graduation and Straughan’s birthday by attending Disney’s annual Grad Night. They had both been drinking quite a bit and, in their impaired state, thought that it might be fun to sneak into a “Cast Members Only” area along the Rivers of America and steal a boat. They got into an inflatable rubber motorboat that was used for maintenance and took it for a ride. They lost control of the craft and crashed into a rock off of Tom Sawyer Island. The impact sent Straughan flying into the water. Panicked, Straughan’s friend went back to shore to seek help but it was too late. Searchers weren’t able to find Straughan until about an hour later when they came across his lifeless body.