Each year, millions of people travel from around the world to spend their vacation at any of the several Disney parks located throughout the world. Disneyland, the original park, opened in 1955 to much scrutiny from the media, and few could have predicted the impact that it would have on the world. Slowly but surely, Disney expanded their brand to Florida, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Shanghai. The parks generate millions of dollars for the company, and families have the time of their lives. Whether you grew up going to a Disney park or not, most people will eventually make their way into the Magic Kingdom, experiencing the dream and the vision that Walt Disney had all those years ago.
Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan for families looking to have a good time at the parks, and these 15 stories were a living hell for those involved. Whether it be a crushing death, a drowning, or a sexual assault, the Disney parks are not immune from their fair share of controversy. The stories included on our list involve families and cast members alike, and may change the way you look at the beloved parks. Despite the tragic events that have happened in their parks, Disney continues to maintain an excellent reputation for safety, and a lot of stories kept off of this list were not solely blamed on the company. While not every person who goes to a Disney park has a terrible time, we have a feeling that these families won’t be returning any time soon.
15. Crushed To Death On America Sings (Disneyland)
The first tragedy on our list involves a Disneyland cast member losing her life while operating a now defunct attraction. Opening in 1974, America Sings was an animatronic show that took members of the audience through a comedic interpretation of the history of the United States. Less than 3 weeks after the attraction opened to the public, a young woman who was operating the ride was crushed to death in between a wall and a platform. She was just 18 years old at the time of her death, and a dark cloud hung over the park and the attraction. It is said that people in the audience could hear her screams, and that they believed that it was part of the attraction.
The young woman’s family sued, and eventually reached a settlement with Disney. After her death, the ride was closed for several days, eventually reopening to the public and running for another 14 years.
14. Drowned In The Rivers Of America (Disneyland)
Preceding the events of the America Sings tragedy by one year, a guest drowned while swimming his way across the Rivers of America. As the story goes, two brothers were able to hide on Tom Sawyer’s Island (which is located in the center of the Rivers of America), waiting for the park to close to make their way back to the park. The two kids, ages 18 and 10, began to swim across the Rivers of America, but tragedy would strike before they made it all the way across. The younger brother didn’t know how to swim, and the eldest decided to carry him across. The older brother drowned, and the younger brother survived by dog paddling back to safety.
13. Killed By A Line Cleat On The Columbia (Disneyland)
Operating on a ship is a tough job for sailors, and even guests aboard ships are in danger of something going wrong. Disneyland is renowned for their two vessels, the Mark Twain Riverboat and the Sailing Ship Columbia. The Columbia is a wooden ship in the style of the first American ship to successfully circumnavigate the planet, and is a fan favorite attraction. The ship is meant to take guests around the Rivers of America in a fun manner, but in 1998, tragedy struck. When one of the ship’s cleats broke free, three people were struck, and one man would die from his head injury.
This incident would be the first time in the park’s history that a death was not the fault of the guests, ending a streak of 43 years for the park. After the events that transpired that fateful day, Disney would be slapped with safety violations, fines, and lawsuits from several parties.
12. Brain Damage From Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (Disneyland)
Not only did this accident have an impact on the family of the victim, but it also caused a shift in Disneyland’s protocol for ride-related incidents. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin has been in the park since 1996, and can be found in Mickey’s Toontown. The ride allows guests to take a ride through the story of Roger Rabbit while spinning their cart, much like the park’s famous Mad Tea Party attraction. Four years after its opening in Disneyland, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin would find itself as the focal point of some truly horrific events. While on the ride, a 4-year-old child fell out of his cart, and he would be dragged under the ride vehicle. He sustained a torn liver, cardiac arrest, and brain damage.
Shortly thereafter, Disneyland changed its emergency response policy for all cast members to follow, and additional safety measures were installed on the ride. Nine years later, the boy, who never made a full recovery, would die after being found unresponsive in his home.
11. Paralyzed On Space Mountain (Disneyland)
For those of you who have been to Disneyland, you are aware of the fact that Space Mountain might be the park’s most popular attraction. The roller coaster opened in 1977, and has been a staple in the park ever since. The lines for the attraction are incredibly long throughout the day, and even various overlays such as Rockin’ Space Mountain and Hyperspace Mountain have kept the attraction fresh for fans both new and old. Despite its immense popularity at Disneyland, Space Mountain is not without its share of tragedies. While riding the attraction, a young man fell out of his cart, and his collision left him paralyzed from the waist down.
A lawsuit was filed against Disney, and they were ultimately found innocent and cleared of the charges brought up against them. In order to prove their case, the company took the jury to the park to hop aboard the famed attraction, and they even brought a cart from the ride in the courtroom.
10. Attacking A Cast Member (Disney California Adventure)
Cast members at Disneyland have an incredibly busy job that sees them maintaining order in the park while simultaneously (and miraculously) keeping a smile on their face. Their customer service is nearly unparalleled, and most wonder how they stay so positive when dealing with nightmare guests. Sure, rude guests are nothing new to those who have worked in customer service, but few have ever been attacked by a guest. Unfortunately, one cast member experienced this back in 2012. Disneyland is known for not serving alcohol, but its sister park, Disney California Adventure, does, and that is where this infamous attack took place. An intoxicated older man attacked a cast member in front of the now defunct Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Even after using pepper spray, the guest continued to assault the cast member, and was eventually subdued by nearby guests.
9. Explosions In Toon Town (Disneyland)
This incident here is just negligent on the part of the person who decided that this prank would be funny to do while in the park. An employee who worked at an ice cream stand at the park used a plastic bottle and some dry ice to create a dry ice bomb. The man placed two of these bombs in trash cans in Toontown, both of which exploded. Naturally, the explosions caused a panic, and guests that were in Toontown were immediately taken out of the area while a bomb squad made their way over to investigate exactly what had happened. Thankfully, no guests were hurt due to this person’s stupidity. The man responsible was sentenced to just over a month in jail, and he received a lifetime ban from Disneyland.
Two hours after the explosions took place, guests were once again able to make their way into Toontown. With all of the children that are in the park, we are pretty surprised that the culprit didn’t receive a stiffer punishment.
8. Killed By An Alligator At A Disney Hotel (Disney World)
This entry on our list sees us jumping across the country to Disney’s second park, Walt Disney World, and talking about a tragic incident that should still be pretty fresh in your mind. During the night while playing in some shallow water at the Grand Floridian Hotel, a 2-year-old boy was attacked by an alligator that was lurking in the area. His body wouldn’t be found until the following afternoon, and it was located near the area that he was playing in before he was brutally attacked. It was ultimately ruled that the boy died from drowning and traumatic injuries. Disney was quick to place warning signs about alligators at the hotel, but you have to wonder why this wasn’t done before.
The family who lost their young son was in town visiting from Nebraska, and they suffered one of the worst tragedies in Disney history. The resort has since removed references to crocodiles and alligators.
7. Bitten By A Snake (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
Two years before the young boy was attacked and killed by an alligator, a park guest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was attacked and bitten by a snake. It was announced that a snake had fallen out of a tree in a public area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, biting an 8-year-old boy. The shock of this event caused the young boy’s grandma to fall into cardiac arrest, eventually dying two days later. There are two sides to the story about the snake, with Disney naturally taking the defensive. It has been suggested that the snake was Disney’s and that it had shed its captivity. Disney maintains that the snake was not part of the animal collection.
The lawsuit against Disney wasn’t brought on until 2 years after the events of the snake bite took place. Disney has since said that the child’s wounds were treated on-site, and that the family went on about their day.
6. Suffering A Broken Hip And Collapsed Lung On It’s A Small World (Disney World)
This particular accident is another example of a child falling out of a ride vehicle and suffering a tremendous amount of damage to their little body. In 1994, a 6-year-old girl was in the loading area of It’s a Small World when she fell out of the ride’s boat. After she fell into the water, the young girl was hit by another boat that was making its way into the area. After being struck by the other boat, the young girl was taken to a hospital where she would begin the recovery process. She suffered a broken arm, a broken hip, and a collapsed lung due to the accident, and the ride was quickly shut down by park officials.
5. A Fire Breaking Out Near The Seven Dwarfs Mine (Disney World)
One of the most famous aspects of attending a Disney park is sticking around for the fireworks that help conclude the park’s days. Each park has its own unique fireworks shows that fans wait all day to see, and it’s almost considered a sin to skip out on the show. Sadly, Disney’s famed fireworks has caused some problems for the park, and one night back in 2014, put guests in danger. During the fireworks show, falling embers made their way over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction, and artificial grass near the ride caught on fire. The ride and guests that were in the area were quickly evacuated so that the fire could be taken care of.
This was an instance of no park guests being hurt thanks to the quick reaction and work of cast members. The ride was able to reopen later that evening. Things could have taken a turn for the worst, but they thankfully did not.
4. Arresting Tigger For Molestation Charges (Disney World)
Thanks to Disney’s extensive and beloved catalogue, the company is replete with characters that fans line up to take a picture with. Tigger remains one of Disney’s most popular characters, though he was also responsible for a despicable act that was committed back in 2004. Allegations were brought up that a cast member, while wearing the costume of Tigger, fondled a 13-year-old girl. The employee was a 36-year-old man, and he would be arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation. After he was arrested, his case would go to trial, and a jury would eventually find the man innocent.
He was allowed to resume his job at Disney World, though I’m sure his fellow cast members never looked at him the same again. There have been several incidents involving cast members in character (including an incident involving Donald Duck groping a woman), but this one is truly disgusting. While he was proven innocent, most people will be hesitant to have their kids meet Tigger.
3. Nearly Crushed To Death On Pirates Of The Caribbean (Disneyland Paris)
The Disney parks in the United States are not the only ones who have dealt with tragedies, so let’s hop across the pond to Disneyland Paris, the location of the next 2 entries on our list. Disney cast members who are acting as ride attendants stress the importance of safely getting in and out of ride vehicles, and this incident is exactly why. We have seen several instances of children falling out of ride vehicles, and this entry is no different. While exiting a ride vehicle on Pirates of the Caribbean, a 5-year-old boy became trapped between the boat and the dock. He was immediately rushed to a hospital and was in critical condition.
Thankfully for the boy and his family, he was able to survive the horrible tragedy. This incident is just another reason why cast members are always on the alert while people are entering and exiting vehicles.
2. Paralysis From Tower Of Terror (Disneyland Paris)
Now that it has been rethemed at Disneyland in California, there are few places where guests can hop aboard the Tower of Terror, and Disneyland Paris is one of the lucky parks that has the ride. The ride is a free-fall ride that takes guests on an adventure in the Twilight Zone. It is based around an episode of the famed series, and is a ride that attracts tons of guests. In 2011, a young boy who was riding the attraction was immediately rushed to a hospital. It is said that the boy became paralyzed from the neck downwards after riding the Tower of Terror, though doctors have refused to confirm this.
Disney has since said that the child went on several rides after the Tower of Terror, and that he was able to walk to the park’s medical center. X-rays, however, showed that he suffered a spine and bone contusion.
1. Train Derailment On Space Mountain (Tokyo Disneyland)
The final entry on our list takes us over to Tokyo, which is home to the Tokyo Disneyland park that opened up back in the 1980s. Much like Disney’s other parks, Tokyo Disneyland has a Space Mountain attraction, and in 2003, a train derailment on the ride led to the attraction being shut down. No one was hurt due to the derailment, and an investigation quickly got underway. The cause of the accident was a failed axle, and the ride would be reopened 2 months after the incident took place. So far, the Asian Disneyland parks have had much fewer incidents than the ones located in the United States and in Paris, but no park is without its flaws.
Accidents happen at theme parks all over the world, and Disney is no exception to this. While their incidents are not a regular occurrence and most are due to negligence by the guest, they have had several deaths on their hands, and they will continue to work towards operating incident-free parks.
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