For most of us, a visit to an amusement park is the perfect way to spend a vacation. On our own or with friends, it gives us a chance to dose up on adrenaline and corndogs. Mechanical innovations of the 1860s gave birth to fun rides like the steam-powered carousel. 35 years later, the roller coaster idea was brought to life with the Flip Flap Railway, located at Sea Lion Park in Brooklyn. But this was a tame derivative of earlier designs. The first proper roller coaster called “The Cyclone” was opened at Coney Island in 1927.
Rides such as The Cyclone were incredibly dangerous, and many passengers would leave with whiplash or worse, brain injuries. What’s more, the tracks were mostly made of wood, which meant they were susceptible to weathering and collapse.
Today, roller coaster rides are far safer than they were, but they’re still not without danger. Emergency rooms in the US dealt with an estimated 30,000 injuries from amusement park rides in 2016, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CNN, 2017). Worryingly, the Commission also reported that, on average, three people a year are killed on rides in the US. The biggest culprits are roller coasters, followed by whirling rides and bumper cars with fatalities more likely occurring because of freak mechanical faults or poor maintenance.
Here are 15 of the worst roller-coaster deaths from around the world, including death by decapitation, crushing, being cut in half, and being drowned. (Best not to read this if you’re headed to Disneyland anytime soon.)
15. Carriage Takes Off And Causes Fatal Internal Trauma
Located in the Frontierland section of several Disneyland-style parks worldwide, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a mine train-themed roller coaster. The ride takes passengers through tunnels, hill drops, and sharp bends. It’s a popular destination for park visitors, young and old.
In 2003, 22-year-old Marcello Torres was riding Big Thunder with a friend when the carriage he was in derailed due to a mechanical fault. As the train entered one of the many tunnels, the axle of the carriage jammed against the braking mechanism of the ride. This caused the locomotive carriage to stop suddenly and become airborne in the tunnel. The front of the train then smashed down on the carriage containing Torres. The locomotive caused Torres massive internal trauma, but he wasn’t immediately killed. However, by the time emergency services reached Torres, he was dead.
14. Cut In Half
Willard’s Whizzer is located at Six Flags Great America, Illinois and is a speed-racer roller coaster. From its conception, the Whizzer was plagued with problems occurring to the braking system, a fault that would often cause the trains to collide at the station. Unfortunately, no solution was presented to fix this, and their use continued. From 1976-1979, there were around 11 instances of station collisions.
In March 1980, 13-year-old Kyle Foss was stepping onto a train when another came up fast, causing a collision. The boy was thrown from the first train onto the tracks and was killed when he was run over by the second train, effectively cut in half by the force of the impact. Because the second train breached several automatic safety systems, investigators pinned the blame on an electric signal that disrupted the roller coaster’s computer (California Research Bureau).
13. Crushed To Death
Back in 2016, a fair at Jiaguang Village, Hebei province in northern China hosted a pirate ship ride. The ride itself is tame in comparison with others and consists of an open, seated gondola, which swings back and forth and allows passengers to sense variable g-force.
A 19-year-old male who had apparently been drinking stepped onto the ride. According to People’s Daily Online, as the ride reached the apex of its swing, the man stood up and then fell off the boat. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he was then dragged under the ship and into the mechanism beneath, suffering crushing trauma. Paramedics attended to the victim, but there was nothing they could do to save him, and they pronounced him dead at the scene. An investigation was launched to ascertain whether or not the man had been intoxicated and, if so, why he was allowed on the ride.
12. 14-Year-Old Girl Couldn’t Hold On To Save Life
The Top Spin is a thrill ride, though the name is a generic term for a variety of rides that follow the same principle and are found all over the world. The ride consists of a row or two of seats suspended between two arms. At various points in its cycle, the platform of seats spins violently in both directions.
Early in 2017, The “Journey Through Space” Top Spin ride in Fengdu County saw tragedy. A 14-year-old girl buckled herself in along with other passengers, but at some point and for reasons still unknown, the girl slipped beneath her harness. As the ride gathered momentum, she was forced out of her chair until she was hanging onto the metal foot bar in front of terrified onlookers. After two turns of the ride, her grip failed her, and she was flung at force into the ground, dying instantly.
11. Two Crushed, Two Drowned
Dreamworld is Australia’s biggest theme park and is described on their website as “a world of happiness including 50 rides and attractions, as well as wildlife within 8 different worlds” (dreamworld.com.au). Located at the northern end of Queensland’s Gold Coast, it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists.
However, the whitewater-rapids ride became a gruesome crime scene in October 2016 after an accident caused the deaths of four adults. As the raft containing the adults and two children reached the end of the ride, a vacant raft in front of them became stuck. Rather than the weight of the loaded raft nudging the empty one away, the loaded raft began to lift up and tilt backward. The children were thrown into the water and survived, but two of the adults dropped from the raft and were crushed in the ride machinery, while the other two were trapped under the raft and drowned.
10. Fire Causes Fault That Killed Six
A ride called “Space Journey” hit the news back in 2010 for all the wrong reasons. A dome-like, space shuttle simulator, it’s designed to simulate the experience of a rocket launch. It includes 11 passenger pods that each holds four people. The ride then spins the cars inside a domed screen portraying movies about space. Passengers experience the gravitational forces of a launch into space.
At some point in the ride, an electrical fire caused one of the cars to come loose. The ride then malfunctioned, turning all 11 pods upside down and spilling passengers 15 meters to the ground. An executive of a tourist company who witnessed the accident said, “All of a sudden, the cabins were turned upside down, and passengers start to fall. Not even their safety belts could hold them” (South China Morning Post, 2010). In all, six people were thrown to their deaths.
9. Rusty Carriage
The Ohio State Fair has been an annual family attraction since 1850. It boasts “a variety of activities and exhibits, including interactive educational activities, sporting competitions, helicopter rides, agricultural competitions and more than 60 fun rides” (ohiostatefair.com, 2017). But in the summer of 2017, the fair hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The park was hosting a 15-year-old ride called “The Fire Ball.” The ride had a central arm, which swings back and forth like a pendulum, while at the end of the arm, a circular row of pods spins passengers. Tyler Jarrell, an 18-year-old from Columbus, was sitting with three others as the carriage swung up into the air before beginning a rapid descent. As the carriage swept through the lowest point of the arc, excessive corrosion caused it to separate from the arm of the ride. The carriage continued upwards before spilling its passengers. Jarrell dropped from 30 feet to his death.
8. The 17-Year-Old Boy
Six Flags Over Georgia is “the largest regional theme park in the Southeast, featuring more than 40 rides and attractions, along with Hurricane Harbor water park” (sixflags.com, 2017). Found just west of the city of Atlanta, it’s a popular family destination, including characters and themes from a variety of Warner Bros. shows. The park has just announced a new addition to its attractions called “JUSTICE LEAGUE: Battle for Metropolis”, a 4D indoor gaming experience.
In 2008, 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson had ridden the Batman roller coaster but had lost his hat beneath the ride track. After stepping off of the ride, he illegally gained access to the controlled area under the circuit in order to retrieve his hat. Not aware of the approach of the next train, the boy continued to look for his hat and was struck by the foot of a passenger with such force that he was decapitated. The ride was closed for a day after the accident but soon reopened.
7. Into The Rapids
Drayton Manor Park is an amusement park and zoo in the grounds of a historic manor house in central England. It plays host to around 1.5 million fun-seekers each year and has a good safety record. In fact, there have only ever been two recorded deaths at the park. Park rides include The Shockwave, “Europe’s only stand-up coaster” and Apocalypse, “a five-sided drop tower” (draytonmanor.co.uk).
In the spring of 2017, 11-year-old Evha Jannath was enjoying Splash Canyon Ride when she decided to swap seats with her friends on a level part of the river. As she stood up, the carriage was hit by a wave, which knocked her into the choppy water. Eyewitnesses say the girl was then “dragged under by the rapids” and drowned, but later, post-mortem results found that the schoolgirl had been killed by “blunt force chest trauma” (The Sun).
6. The Boy Who Flung
Bell’s Amusement Park was an attraction in Expo Square of Tulsa, Oklahoma and famed for Zingo, its large wooden roller coaster, which was built in 1968. It had a good safety record, and up until 1997, there had never been a fatal accident in the 47 years the park had been open, according to Robert Bell III (Bell’s president and general manager) when speaking to the Chicago Tribune.
That all changed, however when, on April 20, 1997, Patrick Kurek, aged 14, and three of his friends climbed aboard the Wildcat roller coaster. As they were approaching the first chain hill, a carriage already at the top of the hill malfunctioned. Because there was no mechanism to prevent it from rolling backward, it hurtled 15 meters down the track before slamming into the carriage containing Kurek. The boy was flung from his seat into metal railings before plummeting to his death.
5. Thrown From Seat
When it opened in 2014, the Verrückt water slide in Kansas was the world’s tallest. The Guinness World Records reported that at their starting point, the three-man crafts were higher than either Niagara Falls or the foot-to-torch portion of the Statue of Liberty. As the ride was being designed, test engineers noticed experimental ballast often flying out of the craft as it reached the second apex. The addition of overhead metal hoops to support safety netting caused further concern, but the ride was nevertheless opened on July 10.
In August 2016, ten-year-old Caleb Schwab was traveling in a craft with two women. Schwab was sitting in the front, but as they reached the second apex, because of his small size, he was thrown up against the metal supports. The craft was traveling at around 70mph, and Schwab was immediately decapitated. Bystanders watched in horror as his headless body then floated down a river of blood towards the pool at the end of the ride.
4. Carriage Hits Concrete
The world’s largest indoor triple-loop roller coaster is called The Mindbender. Shortly after it opened in Edmonton, Canada in 1986, Rod Chayko and his good friend David Sager decided to try it out. Chayko and Sager got into the last car behind Tony Mandrusiak and his fiancee Cindy Sims. The train took off at speed, climbing the curving upwards slope before descending down a sharp, twisty left-hand drop.
At some point before the final loop, the carriage containing Chayko and the others derailed. The train continued at speed, dragging the carriage behind it, and entered the loop. As it reached the top of the loop, it slammed into a concrete pillar. Damage sustained to the carriages caused the lap bars to disengage, and the four passengers dropped 25 feet to the floor below. Chayko was the only survivor. “I remember feeling it sway and grabbing onto the handle,” recalls Chayko. “The next thing, I was landing on the ground” (Global News, 2016).
3. Burned Alive
Haunted attractions are a form of entertainment designed to stimulate our sense of fear. Some are very basic and might include robotic monsters or witches or holographic ghosts, while others might be themed on popular horror movies. Most amusement parks have a haunted house or castle, which is either a walk-around or a sit-down ride. Six Flags Great Adventure Park in Jackson Township’s Haunted Castle was opened in 1979 and closed in 1984.
In May 1984, eight teens visited the attraction. As they reached further inside, a fire started, which quickly spread through the corridors and hallways rising to a temperature of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Eyewitnesses recall seeing “a fearsome holocaust in which wind-whipped flames soared into the night sky and temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees melted metal walls and turned interiors into raging infernos” (New York Time, 1984). The teens were burnt beyond recognition.
2. Four Children Crushed
It was holiday season. Heading for the Big Dipper in Battersea Park, London in 1972 were crowds of schoolchildren, eager and flushed with excitement. The ride, which dated back to 1951, was “the London Eye of its day” (The Independent, 2015). By 1972, stricter safety measures were in place, but with such an old roller coaster, the state of the mechanisms was in doubt.
A group of children stepped onto the train. It was pulled up towards the first chain hill, but on reaching the top of the 15-meter rise, it became detached from the drive chain and started hurtling backward. As it reached a bend, the back carriage derailed, and the other two crashed down on top of it. Five children were killed, with one falling to her death and the others crushed under the weight of the carriages. Thirteen others were injured in the accident.
In 2015, a new ride called “The Scream” opened at Longshan Amusement Park in Pingyang, Wenzhou City in Zhejiang. The ride features two gondolas on either end of a large arm. The arm spins around a central pivot point, giving the customers a high g-force thrill ride.
But on the day it opened, tragedy struck. Five tourists stepped onto the ride, which reaches heights of 60 feet, but before they could buckle themselves in, the machine operator started the programme. The passengers frantically tried to stay secure as the ride began to lift them higher into the air. Three of the five passengers were flung from their seats onto the ground below with two of them suffering fatal injuries. The resulting chaos was filmed on mobile phones and other handheld devices by shocked nearby tourists. Some staff are seen rushing to prevent onlookers from getting too close, while others attempt to assist the mangled victims.
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