Everyone remembers the 2008 tragedy when that kid jumped over two fences (with warning signs all over the place) to retrieve his lost hat, only to have his head punted off by Batman’s bloodthirsty roller coaster at Six Flags. Although a similar event happened years earlier on the same ride, the ride itself was actually very safe. It was people like the boy, who simply wouldn’t let his prized heirloom go, that caused those tragedies. Suffice it to say, it is suggested to never climb onto the tracks of a roller coaster - in progress or not.
This list is different. These rides are decidedly NOT safe, and many of them have disastrous track records. All of these deadly accidents took place from ride malfunctions that generally weren’t the people’s fault. It’s not the intention here to mortify and scare everyone away from theme parks, but, rather... well, maybe it is the intention. Nonetheless, check out this list of the 10 deadliest theme park rides and accidents in history.
10 Fujin Raijin II Roller Coaster at Expoland - Osaka, Japan
Expoland, located in Suita, Osaka, Japan, was a thriving amusement park for 37 years. It was opened at the International Exposition in 1970 (Expo '70), with more than 40 rides and attractions, and 19 shops and restaurants. Things took a turn for the worst on May 5, 2007.
In Japan’s worst amusement park disaster, The Fujin Raijin II roller coaster was derailed, and cars went flying off the tracks. A 19-year-old university student was killed, and 19 others were injured. An investigation showed that a broken axle caused the derailment, and none of the ride’s axles had been replaced for 15 years. Similar coasters across Japan were closed for inspection of the same problem, and Expoland was cited by authorities for faulty maintenance when similar cracks were found at a different coaster a month later. The park reopened, but quickly closed in December 9, 2007, never to reopen again. The park cited “a lack of customers” as the reason for closing.
9 Water Slide at Waterworld USA - California, USA
In 1997, the water slide at Waterworld USA in California turned deadly. Water slides have always been a top cause of theme park injuries since they are often geared with poor safety precautions, short walls, and the likelihood of hitting your head and knocking yourself out is a real concern.
In 1997, a gaggle of 33 high school graduating seniors crowded the water slide, causing the slide to collapse under their weight. A 17-year-old died from a crushed chest, and all 32 others were taken to hospitals. Later that month, at the graduation ceremony, 17 students accepted their diplomas in wheelchairs.
8 Derby Racer Roller Coaster - Revere, Massachusetts, USA
One of the first wooden racing roller coasters, the original Derby Racer was built in 1911. More than a quarter of all racing coasters ever built were constructed in the 1900s and 1910s. The coaster’s twin tracks were laid out in a figure 8 design. You can imagine that the safety precautions were not quite up to snuff in that time period.
Shortly after the coaster opened, on June 8, 1911, a young man was catapulted from the coaster and killed on impact. Not a good start for the Derby’s less-than-stellar safety record. Six years later, another man was killed on the coaster after being thrown in front of the coaster train and ran over. In 1929, a third fatality struck when another rider was thrown from the train. This last death resulted in a 1935 Massachusetts Supreme Case against the operator of the coaster, Ocean View Amusements. The coaster was demolished in 1936, only for a new racing roller coaster of the same name to open up a year later, just to be demolished again in 1948.
7 Tidal Wave Pool at Action Park - Vernon, New Jersey, USA
Action Park is known as one of the most dangerous, deadliest, theme parks ever built. It was opened in 1978 and closed in 1996 due to injury reports and a decline in customers. It also had one of the first water parks in modern America. Six people are known to have died from rides at Action Park, due to drownings, electrocution, a heart attack, and a face smashed on a rock.
Arguably the most dangerous attraction at Action Park was the wave pool, nicknamed the “Grave Pool” by locals. It was the first turbulent water-bound mosh pit of its kind, with at least 12 lifeguards always on duty and as many as 30 saves being performed over a busy weekend. On July 24, 1982, a 15-year-old boy drowned in the pool. Two years later, on August 27, 1984, a 20-year-old drowned, and on July 18, 1987, an 18-year-old met the same fate. A popular list of “You Know You’re from New Jersey When...” circulates and begins with, “You’ve been seriously injured at Action Park.” The park was shut down in 1996 amidst lawsuits, and reopened as Mountain Creek Waterpark in 1998, focusing on upgraded safety precautions. They changed their name back to Action Park in April, 2014.
6 Human Trebuchet at Middlemoor Water Park - Somerset, England, UK
It probably isn’t a great idea to combine one of the most powerful medieval siege weapons, built to hurl boulders at castle walls, with human subjects. For bored residents of Somerset, England, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Middlemoor Water Park came up with the winning combination of “powerful siege engine” and “awesome amusement park ride for all ages” in Oxford’s Dangerous Sports Club’s authentic period-piece trebuchet.
Suffice it to say, not the most accurate or safest device ever invented. After two Oxford undergraduates unfortunately missed the proposed safety net and splattered on the ground, police arrested the two ride operators and charged them with the classic indictment of “operating a medieval siege weapon without a license.” At least that’s how the story goes.
5 King’s Island - Mason, Ohio, USA
The grounds of King’s Island have thought to be haunted since the tragic events of June 9, 1991. An episode of SyFy channel’s Ghost Hunters was filmed at the park in 2012, and people have reported sightings of a little ghost girl in a blue dress.
On that fateful day, death lingered all around the park. First, a man fell into a pond. Innocent accident, sure. When his friend, 20-year-old William Haithcoat, and 20-year-old park employee Darrel Robertson jumped into rescue him (rescue someone from falling in a pond? There must be more to this story), all three suffered an electric shock, killing both Haithcoat and Robertson. Ironically, the man they were trying to save was the only survivor.
An hour later, 32-year-old Candy Taylor fell from a ride called the Flight Commander and died on impact. King’s Island is still open, and has even won the award for having the “Best Kids’ Area” in the world by Amusement Today for thirteen consecutive years (2001-2013)!
4 Mindbender at Galaxyland Amusement Park - Alberta, Canada
The Mindbender is the world’s largest indoor triple loop roller coaster. It is also a roller coaster with one the worst accidents of all time. Originally dubbed one of the “safest rides in the world” by German-manufacturers of the coaster, that was anything but the case on the evening of June 14, 1986.
That day, the worst nightmare of roller coaster riders happened: Missing bolts on the left-inside wheel assembly of the last car caused the four-car-train to disengage from the track. The final car fishtailed wildly, colliding with support structures, throwing off passengers, stalling at the final loop, sliding backwards, and then crashing into a concrete pillar.
Three of the people on that car were killed, either by falling to the ground or hanging on the track, with the fourth man seriously injured in the chest and neck. At the time of the accident, the park was packed with people watching a concert. Many of the concert-goers were given a horrific view as the band played over the derailing coaster. The ride opened seven months later with new safety measures, and since then has had an excellent safety record.
3 The Big Dipper at Battersea Fun Fair - London, England, United Kingdom
The worst roller coaster tragedy in history happened in England, in May of 1972, at London’s Battersea Park Fun Fair. The old wooden roller coaster was the main attraction of the park, giving riders all the rickety thrills they could ask for. Wooden coasters have a track record of wearing out quickly unless they are meticulously maintained. Negligence, as such, was the cause for this tragedy.
In the summer of 1972, the rope that brings the cars to the top of the launch hill snapped. Then, the anti-rollback mechanism failed. With that double whammy, the chain of cars barreled back into the boarding area, smashing into a wall and killing five children, and seriously injuring 13 others. The Battersea Fun Fair closed two years later due to the accident.
2 Eco-Adventure Valley Space Journey at Overseas Chinese Town East - Shenzhen, China
The Eco-Adventure Journey was supposed to simulate a rocket launch. On June 29, 2010, the thrill-seeking riders got much more than they bargained for. The ride was a sort of multi-car centrifuge that whirled inside a domed screen and portrayed movies about space.
During the ride, one of the cars suddenly came loose and lost all power. The dome ricocheted around the chamber and started an electrical fire before plunging out of the sky, 35 feet to the ground, with more than 44 people inside. Six people were killed, five were critically injured, with five more sustaining serious injuries, and most of the people taken to hospitals were unconscious. Reports say the tragedy occurred because a faulty screw came loose. Nonetheless, there are no rides in China with that much impact force. The dome weighed five tons and the impact force could have been double that.
1 Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure - Jackson Township, New Jersey, USA
Surprisingly, the worst accident in the history of theme parks wasn’t from a catapulted roller coaster or space simulation gone wrong. It was from a haunted house: One of the few “rides” where people are on their feet, not suspended in the air, and it seems almost impossible that such a tragedy could happen here, short of everyone suffering a fear-induced heart attack (which was not the case).
As if straight out of Carrie, the horrific event took place on May 11, 1984, when the castle burst into flames. The wind-whipped flames soared to over 2,000 degrees, melting the metal walls and turning the interior into a raging inferno. Most of the people inside the castle escaped safely, but eight teenagers became trapped and died in the blaze. Their bodies were torched beyond recognition. The park was brought up on charges for lacking safety precautions like sprinklers and smoke detectors, but Six Flags escaped responsibility because the castle was considered a “temporary structure.” Arson was a likely cause of the fire.