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Top Five Most Terrifying Amusement Park Mishaps of All Time

You see it all the time come the summer months, “Killer ride injures passengers,” “Man dies after roller coaster ride.” Heck, search, “roller coaster accident” on YouTube, and you’ll find no shortage of videos – mostly of rides undergoing a “safety cut out” where all trains simply stop where ever they are in the circuit.

While these “stories” are mostly media spin, incidents have and still do occur – however many are a direct result of disobeying park rules and regulations. With that being said, here now are the five most terrifying (actual) amusement park mishaps:

5. Happiest Place on Earth?

Monorail track is not an alternative to the front gate.

Monorail track is not an alternative to the front gate.

Disneyland has certainly seen it’s fair share of problems over the years. Nine people have been killed in the park (although officially they all died ‘on the way to the hospital, as no one ever dies in Disneyland‘).

Seven of the nine deaths can be directly attributed to disobeying park rules or trespassing. Two have drowned in the Rivers of America. An employee who wasn’t aware of her surroundings was crushed in the “America Sings” Theater.

But the one we’ll focus on is the story of Thomas Guy Cleveland, who at 19 years old, had the brilliant idea of getting into the park via the monorail track.

Amazingly, he scaled the 15 foot track, avoided the 240V power line and began his trek to get into Disneyland immortality.

When security spotted him – naturally he began to run down the beam to avoid them. What he didn’t realize, was that they were trying to warn him that a monorail was approaching and that he should jump off the beam.

He didn’t jump off – and he didn’t get into the park for free, either.

This is certainly not the first time that someone has been killed jumping fences or at least trying to at an amusement park. This kid is lucky he still has life after diving into Jurassic Park: The Ride to retrieve his lost hat – while the ride was running. Not the brightest bulb in the set. Even if you’re not a fan of amusement parks – this video will make you cringe.

It just proves – you can’t stop stupid – no matter how many fences, gates and signs you put up.

4. Perilous Plunge – Knott’s Berry Farm, CA (2000-2012)

Perilous Plunge was plagued with delays, malfunctions and modifications in its' 12 year run.

Perilous Plunge was plagued with delays, malfunctions and modifications in its’ 12 year run. (Photo by Knott’s Berry Farm.)

When it opened in 2000, Perilous Plunge was the tallest, fastest, steepest (and wettest) flume ride in the world.

It was also the most temperamental advanced water ride of its’ time, requiring complete computer control and even a magnetic braking system built into the base of the ride to stop it in the limited space available for a splashdown pool.

During a special event at the park, a woman somehow slipped out of the ride’s lap bar restraint system on the drop, killing her instantly. Investigators believed that because she was so overweight, her mass shifted violently in the steep drop, causing her to fall out.

The boats on the ride were later modified with 5-point racing harnesses as additional restraints – then converted to standard, over the shoulder “horse collar” restraints. The entire attraction was scrapped in late 2012 for future expansion.

3. Crystal Beach Cyclone – Ontario, CN (1927-1946)

Traver's most successful of his "terrifying triplets."

Traver’s most successful of his “terrifying triplets.”

The most famous of Harry Traver’s designs, the Cyclone was and still is considered to be the most intense roller coaster ever built. With speeds approaching 55 mph and g forces in excess of +5, there aren’t many steel coasters today that can pull that off. (And the Cyclone was wood, with a steel lattice structure.)

Considering the ride ran for nearly 20 years with only a single fatality was mind boggling – how it happened is even more head turning (Literally).

Turns out in 1938 – on opening day of the season, no less – Amos Wiedrich allegedly stood up to take his coat off, after the ride had begun. Because he was out of his seat on the first drop, he simply fell out from the forces. To ad insult to injury, he was hit seconds later by the train he had been riding in when it came back around through the circuit.

Oh, did we mention this was the only roller coaster in history to have a Nurse’s Station at the exit? (Apparently it was all for show, but considering the damage this ride could have done, it may have been a worthy investment to keep the insurance down!)

2. Action Park “Cannonball Run” – Vernon, NJ (1985-sporadically into 1996)

Someone apparently thought this was a good idea.

Someone apparently thought this was a good idea.

Yes, you heard me right, looping water slide. Long before parks were marketing 45 degree pitched slides as “looping” Action Park in New Jersey had them beat with a bona fide vertical looping water slide.

According to most reports, the ride was open for one month in the summer of 1985, then was opened sporadically through 1996, when it was eventually torn down.

By principle, it *should* have worked – but that wasn’t the case…ever.

Concussions, abrasions and the possibility of being stuck in the slide were all risks people were willing to take to get on this ride – well, that and allegedly $100 bills that park management bribed them with to try it.

You can read a first hand account of the ride from someone who actually experienced it here.

On a related side note – Action Park (and many of it’s “groundbreaking, people breaking” attractions) was closed in 1996, and re-opened as Mountain Creek Resort in 1997. All of the non-conforming (i.e. unsafe) rides, including the looping waterslide were destroyed – with newer, safer ones replacing them (Though, that’s up for debate).

1. Lightning – Revere Beach, MA (1927-1933)

Revere Beach's "Lightning"

Revere Beach’s “Lightning”

The last of Harry Traver’s infamous “Terrifying Triplets” – Lightning was so twisted, most riders could not handle the brutal forces exerted on them.

On the second day of operation, a young girl was somehow ejected from the ride and died after hitting the track below. According to lore, the ride was shut down for 20 minutes, “…so they could remove the body.”

That’s right – the ride was back up and running after only 20 minutes. Odds are, the line increased quite a bit, too.

Back in the 1920’s it wasn’t unheard of for a ride to become more popular after it killed someone. Today, we have a bit higher standards and regards for our personal safety, thankfully.

Roar! at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA

Roar! at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA

Sharp eyed coaster fans will notice that both the Lighting and Cyclone first drops have a modern counterpart. Both the “Roar” wooden coasters at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Six Flags America share the similar first drop with Traver’s triplets.

So, will we ever see another Crystal Beach Cyclone, or looping water slide? At the rate safety technology is going – I certainly wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibility. Just look at how far we’ve come in just the past 90 years!

And there you have it – ten of the most terrifying amusement park mishaps of all time.

It should be noted, that while awful and scary as some of these incidents are, they are also an infinitely tiny minority of the total rides taken over the course of history.

Many of these instances occurred before the advent of safety regulations, government oversight, understanding of g-forces or restraint technology.

The odds of you being injured at a modern amusement park are actually lower than when you are driving to the park itself. So be smart – obey the park rules and you’ll have a fun and safe time!


It’s a Small, Litigious World After All!

It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears; Its a world of hopes, its a world of fear; There’s so much that we share, that its time we’re aware…
“…its a small world after all!”

You might want to add, “It’s a world of lawsuits” to that refrain as well.

Late last week, Disney got an early Easter present, in the form of an $8,000 judgement against them for not being able to evacuate a man off the ride for over 30 minutes. (The ride itself is anywhere from 12-15 minutes long normally).

Considering how much other Disney lawsuits have been settled for, this one just might feel like a present to settle so low.

So, how did we get here? Well, back in 2009, Jose Martinez, found himself stuck in the final “room” of the attraction the day after Thanksgiving. As per standard operating procedure, Disneyland employees were able to evacuate all the passengers from the ride…except Martinez – who is confined to a wheelchair due to paralysis.

According to Martinez’s attorney, he suffers from panic attacks and high blood pressure, “…both of which became issues as he sat in the boat (with the song) playing over and over and over.” He added, “(Martinez) He was half in the cave of the ride and half out,” Geffen said. “The music was blaring. They couldn’t get it to go off.”

Apparently, Disneyland employes were unable to evacuate the wheelchair-bound Martinez and opted to try and fix the ride to get him back to the ride platform.

Now this is where I get to the litigious point of my article…

Martinez’s attorney continued, “This is a really important ruling not just for (Martinez), but for anyone that rides the rides at Disneyland — because they do break down often and they do not tell people.” Anyone who’s ever visited Disney Parks know that the ride operators are some of the best in the business. As SOON as a ride breaks down, announcements are made and cast members generally walk out to the attraction (when they can) to speak with guests and re-assure them that everything is okay.

The next quote finally broke me: “The court’s saying that this kind of injury is foreseeable and that (Disneyland) has a duty to warn people,” Geffen said.

Now, this ruling is significant – as you’ll remember previously that just a few weeks ago, I wrote about a similar lawsuit that was thrown out AND became part of case law. You can find that post here: “Ride at your own Risk!”

Ironically, the attraction – which was added in 1960, after the World’s Fair – was created in the hopes of spreading world peace via the youth of the world.

Apparently, it now should incite fear.

And really, Disney itself has played on this fear, which has made it more of a cult attraction that ever before. Remember these scenes from “The Lion King” trilogy? (Yes, they made three of them under Eisner’s rule)

And legally, we have to state that these clips of copyrighted material are being used under the “Fair use Doctrine” of copyright law, for discussion, criticism, education or parody. In this case, we’re using them as examples of Disney making fun of itself to educate the readers of this blog. We’ve even shortened the clip playtime to the smallest possible to make our point.

So beware, small world riders – you could find yourself in court the next time a ride song traumatizes you!


“Ride at your own risk!”

The ornate, Orleans-inspired entrance to the attraction in question.

The ornate, Orleans-inspired entrance to the bumper cars that are at the heart of the lawsuit.

Today was a victory for amusement parks and fans alike – the California Supreme Court has ruled in favor of amusement parks and ride operators, by throwing out a lawsuit against (then) Paramount’s Great America that involved their bumper cars.

At issue was the “assumption of risk” associated with going to an amusement park and whether or not one could sue a park if you were injured on a ride through no fault of the park. (I.E. the rides were maintained properly, but you still became injured.)

According to court documents, Smriti Nalwa, a local OB-GYN was on the “Rue le Dodge” bumper cars at Paramount’s Great America back in 2005, with her son, who was maneuvering the vehicle. To say you “drive” a bumper car is a bit of a misnomer…

Continuing through the court documents, near the end of the ride cycle, which generally lasts for about a minute, “(the) plaintiff’s bumper car was bumped from the front and then from behind.  Feeling a need to brace herself, (the) plaintiff put her hand on the car’s “dashboard.”  That’s when she realized her wrist was fractured.

The lawsuit originally claimed that the park was negligent in preventing injuries to riders and that the park knowingly operated a ride that caused injuries. A lower court found the park not liable, but upon appeal, the decision was reversed.

According to the dissenting judge in the original appeals case, “Low-speed collisions between the padded, independently operated cars are inherent in—are the whole point of—a bumper car ride.”

Even Nalwa agreed with industry experts and fans, when in her deposition said, “The point of the bumper car is to bump…you pretty much can’t have a bumper car unless you have bumps.”

The court found that while these impacts were not highly dangerous, but that sudden changes in speed and direction do carry an inherent risk of minor injuries. To change this portion of the ride would be eliminating the very character of the ride itself.

The dissenting judge continued, “Imposing liability would have the likely effect of the amusement park either eliminating the ride altogether or altering its character…the fun of bumping would be eliminated, thereby discouraging patrons from riding. Indeed, who would want to ride a tapper car at an amusement park?”

In a small portion of cases such as these, our understanding of technology and safety is improved. For instance, after several situations where people were falling or being pushed onto loading tracks in stations, parks installed the ubiquitous “air gate” preventing soon-to-be riders from falling or getting shoved into the path of an oncoming train.

But because the industry is self-policed (I.E. a “killer” ride no longer has the appeal of the 1920’s), most of these lawsuits have done nothing but drive up the cost of business and removed (or renovated for the worse) attractions.

People DO get injured at parks, yes. But they also get injured at home, in their beds and in the shower, too. Yet, you don’t see lawsuits from those events. Why should a park be any different?

Even the court said, “Head-on bumping was prohibited on the Rue le Dodge ride, a safety rule the ride operators were to enforce by lecturing those they saw engaging in the practice and, if a guest persisted in head-on bumping, by stopping the ride and asking the person to leave.”

What was not discussed in the court papers was the possibility of a pre-existing condition. For all we know, Nalwa could have already had a hairline fracture that was aggravated by riding the bumper cars. This is not unheard of, as a child with a pre-existing heart condition died on Mission: Space at Epcot in Florida several years ago.

So clearly, someone broke the rules, they rammed a car head-on. So how, exactly is that the parks’ responsibility? If you or a member of your family was rear ended on the freeway, would you sue the state for providing the venue for the crash?

Let’s face it, more people are hurt or die DRIVING to amusement parks each year than inside them.

So, did someone get needlessly injured?

Rue le Dodge at Paramount's Great America (2004)

Rue le Dodge at Paramount’s Great America (2004)

Yes.

Do I feel bad that she was injured?

Of course.

Should the park be responsible for other’s behavior in the park, or even a pre-existing condition that Nalwa may have not been unaware of?

Absolutely NOT!

I applaud the decision of the California Supreme Court, because by making this decision, they have re-affirmed our right to have traditional fun, without needless lawsuits ruining it for everyone else.