They’re made of steel, designed for big thrills and we’re willing to make road trips, pay a hefty fee and stand in lines that make us long for DMV queues— all just for a few minutes worth of blood-curdling screams, adrenaline rushes and heart-pounding excitement. We seek them out for a day of carefree enjoyment, family traditions and sometimes plain ol’ hype. Roller coasters and amusement park rides are synonymous with fun. These legendary iron beasts are the stuff dreams are made of for any adrenaline junkie or coaster ride collector.
Whether it’s due to mechanical failure, park negligence or visitor carelessness, the only times these famed attractions aren’t glorious wonders of design is when they kill. Sure, there’s a certain amount of perceived risk that each individual takes when boarding an amusement park ride, but for the most part, we expect to endure nothing more than the good scare we came for. The thought of not going home at the end of a fun-packed day is beyond comprehension for most. With respect to the victims and their families, some of these amusement park ride disasters were due to reckless behavior, so make certain to always follow the rules on your next trip to cut down your chances of ending up on a gruesome list such as this. Be sure you’re not anywhere within a month or two of a planned theme park visit, sit back and read up on sixteen true and totally terrifying amusement park rides that have killed. You must be this brave to enter the article…
16. Cedar Point’s Raptor
In 2015, a 45-year-old special education teacher James Young, Jr. of East Canton, Ohio was killed by the Raptor, a record-breaking steel inverted roller coaster built in 1994 after he walked into the ride’s restricted area to find his cellphone and other personal belongings that had dropped while on the coaster. He was struck on the back of the head by a passing train while retrieving his items. His family says that he was a logical, smart man and a risky move like this was not like James. To make matters more tragic, he had just received his dream job and was scheduled to start as a school counselor once school started back up. The summer trip was something he looked forward to regularly with his good friends.
15. California’s Great America’s Drop Tower
In the summer of 1999, what was intended to be a fun day trip to California’s Great America turned tragic when a 12-year-old boy with a mental disability suffered fatal injuries after somehow slipping from his restraints and falling off of the ride. The child’s family claimed that the restraints and harness were not functioning properly even though the safety restraints were locked and seemed to be functioning properly when the ride came back to the loading zone. After an investigation was completed, no charges were filed. It is still undetermined and disputed how the child fell from the ride.
14. California’s Great America’s Flight Deck (Formerly Top Gun)
In 1998, a man was killed by the dangling leg of another passenger. The 25-year-old Spanish-speaking park visitor, Hector Mendoza climbed a fence to retrieve a hat and could not read English so he failed to read the warning signs and entered a restricted “Employees Only” area. Flight Deck, formerly known as Top Gun, is an inverted steel coaster that restrains its passengers from their torsos and allows their legs to hang freely as the coaster reaches speeds up to fifty miles per hour. Hector died about an hour after the incident. The passenger whose leg collided with Hector, 28-year-old Jessica Medina, was treated for a broken leg.
13. California’s Great America’s Great Barrier Reef
In 2007, four-year-old Carlos Flores, who had gone to the summertime attraction with his mother and sister, drowned in a two foot area of the 355,000 gallon wave pool. Other park visitors-turned-witnesses commented that the water attraction had been so busy and packed that day that it would have been extremely difficult for the lifeguards on duty to even notice if a person, let alone a small child, was in need of help. An internal investigation was performed by the park and no safety regulations were changed at the time. It’s unknown if the boy’s family filed charges.
12. California’s Great America’s Logger’s Run
Logger’s Run is a water-based ride where passengers fit into a boat-like craft made up to look like a log. The ride moves along with the flow of water on a narrow course which has a few drops every now and then to add to the thrill a little. Overall, it’s a tame ride, but in 1989, a church group from Oakland, California visited the park for a day of fun; and tame is not the word you’d use to describe what happened. Nine-year-old Michael Dorsey, along with another young boy, purposely jumped out of the log flume (which had no safety restraints) they had been seated in to attempt to jump into another log flume. The other boy landed on a safety platform while Michael fell to his death.
11. California’s Great Adventure’s Willard’s Whizzer
A 13-year-old boy was killed when two trains, one going around fifty miles per hour, collided on this spiralling roller coaster in 1980. He was thrown from the coaster and landed on a rocky surface. Several other passengers were injured as well but luckily landed in water instead. It was discovered that the ride’s electric system that was responsible for keeping the coaster trains at a safe distance apart from one another malfunctioned but the actual cause of the malfunction was not reported. The park was later charged with not reporting a possible defect in the coaster’s braking system. A settlement was decided on $70,000.
10. Kings Dominion’s Shockwave
Shockwave is a Japanese-designed roller coaster which takes passengers on one inversion, one 80+ foot drop and can reach speeds up to fifty miles per hour. Perhaps its most unique feature is that it allows passengers to ride standing upright. For rides like this as with any roller coaster, it’s important to follow safety protocol. Unfortunately, 20-year-old Timothy Fan fell to his death after sustaining massive head injuries in 1999 as the coaster was making speeds of around forty miles per hour. An investigation found that the safety restraints were working properly but the 20-year-old rider had wriggled out of his restraints, according to fellow passengers who had also witnessed his careless behavior prior to the ride taking off.
9. Geauga Lake’s Dominator
Dominator is the world’s longest floorless steel coaster and features the fourth tallest vertical loop in the world. In 2012, a 48-year-old woman from North Carolina was found unconscious in her seat after the train returned to the passenger loading area. She was reported as having a seizure-like episode during the ride and was immediately taken to a hospital where she was later pronounced dead. An autopsy reported that she died of a brain aneurysm. No pre-existing medical conditions that could have attributed to this were known. The ride was closed for inspection after the incident and after all safety inspections passed, the ride re-opened after three days.
8. Kings Island’s Flight Commander
A 32-year-old woman fell out of the popular Flight Commander ride in 1991 and died. The ride lifts its passengers in the air and spins them upside down while going in a circular formation. An investigation later discovered that she was intoxicated to BAC 0.30% and had disregarded proper safety procedures before the ride took off. Both park employees and visitors noted that the woman was riding alone and believe that, coupled with the intoxication factor, played a role in allowing her limp body to slip out of the car, which can seat two people and offers torso restraints and lap bars.
7. Kings Island’s Oktoberfest
Tragically, the very same day as the guest fell to her death from the Flight Commander, another deadly accident happened at Kings Island. After watching a guest fall into a manmade pond in the Oktoberfest area, two nearby onlookers, one of them being a park employee (a security guard) and the other a guest, tried to help the man out but unfortunately, all three were electrocuted in the pond. The cause was later noted to be due to an underwater circulation pump. Horrified guests stood helpless and in horror as they watched the three men die from the electrified water.
6. Kings Island’s Firehawk
After the coaster, capable of reaching speeds up to fifty miles per hour and with a height of 115 feet, came back to the station on a summer day in 2009, it was apparent that one passenger seemed to have difficulty breathing. The man was taken to a nearby hospital where he later died. It was later discovered that he had a pre-existing heart condition and was also recovering from the flu/respiratory infection at the time of the ride. While the untimely death of this guest was not directly attributed to the ride, some think that the steel-flying coaster with its intense height and speed played a key role in the incident.
5. Kings Island’s Eiffel Tower
A 17-year-old boy was attending a 1983 high school graduation party at the amusement park when he fell to his death down the elevator shaft at the park’s famed Eiffel Tower attraction. Apparently, he had climbed a large fence and tried to jump on top of the elevator, which had been rising at the time of the incident. It’s not speculated that the boy was trying to commit suicide but rather likely attempting to impress his friend by achieving such a feat or simply enjoying some reckless fun on his Grad Night. It should be noted that the attraction now features bars which would make a repeat of this incident impossible.
4. Knott’s Berry Farm’s Calico Railroad
This story is as tragic as the rest of them, but perhaps with an added element of frustration as this was just a case of a person trying to do their job. A ride operator was killed in 1996 after being caught between two cars that had gotten stuck on the tracks. The employee, likely thinking that it would be fairly easy enough to disconnect the stuck cars and get them moving again, got caught on the tracks himself and died by getting crushed by the heavy cars while attempting to separate them. The ride operator wasn’t even new to the Calico Railroad; he had spent all of his three years of employment learning and working the ride.
3. Knott’s Berry Farm’s Montezooma’s Revenge
This famous monster coaster features a flywheel clutch launch system, reaches speeds of up to sixty miles per hour in just three tiny seconds, loops its brave passengers up seven storeys high, plunging them forward and backward, giving them the ride of their life. Sadly, one of its passengers, 20-year-old aspiring singer and model from Africa, Justine Bolia, died of a ruptured cerebral artery one day after her ride on the roller coaster in 2001. An autopsy revealed that she had a pre-existing brain aneurysm condition that was unknown to her and even though the investigation concluded that the ride didn’t cause her death, her family filed a wrongful death suit in 2002 with her lawyer insisting that it was the force of the ride that set up the right environment for the aneurysm to occur and that Bolia wouldn’t have died had it not been for the fateful coaster ride. The case was later dismissed in 2006.
2. Knott’s Berry Farm’s Perilous Plunge
The park called this water-based coaster, which has been closed since 2012, the steepest and highest drop of any water ride in the world. A year before the ride shut down, a 40-year-old mother of five, Lori Mason-Larez, was attending a private party at the park and somehow fell out of her seat on the multi-passenger boat during the high plunge, suffering blunt force trauma and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Although her seat belt and lap bar were closed and in a locked position when the boat returned to the docking station, she somehow slipped out of the ride’s individual restraints during the ninety-second ride. How exactly Lori slipped from her restraints without them being unfastened was not determined.
1. Worlds of Fun’s Timber Wolf
This wooden coaster, which is still in operation today, is a huge attraction at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri. It boasts features such as a rare 560-degree upward-spiralling helix and takes its passengers up to 100 feet at speeds of 45 mph. This coaster is so intimidating that the park installed a “chicken exit” for those too afraid to continue on in line. A sign in front of the coaster offers a warning to its would-be passengers: “Extreme vibrations and roughness are a nature of this ride. Do not be alarmed.” One of the passengers who decided to brave the ride was a 14-year-old girl who tragically fell to her death from the roller coaster during a sharp turn at one of the coaster’s high points in 1995. Her family disputed claims from the park that witnesses had seen the girl in the process of switching seats and moving around when the accident occurred. After a safety inspection, new lap bars were required and installed and the family settled with the park on the amount of $200,000.
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