It’s never nice to see or hear about anybody being injured or killed in any circumstance, but theme parks are meant to epitomize what it means to have fun as a family, so when injuries and deaths occur as a result of something going wrong with a roller coaster, it’s even more tragic.
Sadly – in spite of the fact that there is said to be a 1 in 300 million chance of being killed on a roller coaster – fatal, near-fatal and life-changing accidents on roller coasters are all too common.
Whether it’s through mechanical or computer failures, tragic and innocent human error, or sheer stupidity, people have been killed or hurt whilst on or near roller coasters in countless locations around the world.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most devastating examples of when that kind of thing has occurred – when fun days out turned into sheer unadulterated nightmares for those involved and those present. Here are fifteen terrifying times roller coasters went horribly wrong.
15. Mindbender (Galaxyland)
The Mindbender holds the title of world’s largest indoor roller coaster with a triple-loop (it was also dubbed “the world’s safest roller coaster”, which is ironic, given what you’re about to read). You’ll find it at Galaxyland Amusement Park, which is a major attraction located within the walls of West Edmonton Mall, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
In 1986, the fourth car on one of the trains derailed just before it came to the ride’s third and final loop. As a result, the train failed to clear said loop and slid backwards, making uncontrolled sideways movements and slamming into a concrete pillar. The lap bars disengaged as a result of the damage caused and four passengers were thrown around 25 feet to the floor. Three of those passengers were killed, while the fourth was badly injured. A number of other passengers were treated for minor injuries at a hospital close to the mall.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the accident was caused by bolts on the left wheel assembly coming loose, with design flaws being blamed for that. The ride reopened with redesigned trains – the four-car trains having been modified to become three-car trains, which reduced the ride’s capacity to twelve from sixteen, and an anti-roll back mechanism was added to the track. Shoulder headrests and seat belts were also added.
14. The Smiler (Alton Towers)
The Smiler roller coaster can be found at Alton Towers, which is located in Staffordshire, England. It features a world record number of inversions on a roller coaster (fourteen), but it has had no end of problems since its opening back in 2013 – including a malfunctioning at a press event which delayed its initial opening for two months.
The most high-profile (and undoubtedly the worst) of the problems it has experienced occurred in 2015. Five people were seriously injured – including two teenage girls who each lost a leg – when a carriage carrying sixteen people on the £18 million ride crashed into an empty car at 20 mph. Even though the ride system had detected an error, a ride engineer overrode it and allowed it to continue, causing the collision. Alton Towers were fined £5,000,000 over the incident.
13. Puff The Little Fire Dragon (Lagoon)
Puff the Little Fire Dragon is a small roller coaster for children located at Lagoon. Lagoon is a privately owned amusement park in Farmington, which is located just north of Salt Lake City in Utah. In 1989, it was the setting for a truly tragic accident involving a little boy.
Ryan Beckstead was just six years of age when he was riding Puff the Little Fire Dragon. The ride goes around the track more than once, but Ryan had attempted to exit his seat when it came to its first stop, thinking the ride had finished. When it started to move again, he fell out and ended up beneath the track. As the ride made its way back around, it struck him in the head, killing him instantly.
12. Rollo Coaster (Idlewild and Soak Zone)
We now come to another incident involving a small child. Although the details of this one are a lot more sketchy than most entries on this list, it is still terrifying just knowing that something like this can happen. It occurred on the Rollo Coaster at Idlewild and Soak Zone, which is an amusement park for children located in the Laurel Highlands near Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
It happened in 2016, when a three-year-old boy, who was riding with his brother, fell to the ground from the ride about halfway around the track and was rushed to hospital. The boy’s parents have asked that no information be released about their son or his condition, but he was said to be alert and talking after the fall. The Rollo Coaster has since been shut down pending an investigation.
11. Batman: The Ride (Six Flags Over Georgia)
Batman The Ride, which is located at Six Flags Over Georgia, just west of Atlanta in Cobb County, Georgia, has been the scene of two fatal incidents that were nearly identical in nature. In each case, individuals were underneath the roller coaster while it was in operation and were subsequently killed after being stuck by the train itself or by the exposed legs of riders.
The first incident occurred in 2002, when a 58-year-old foreman at the park was struck in the head by the dangling legs of a 14-year-old female passenger when he wandered into a no-access area that was locked. The passenger was hospitalized with leg injuries before being released.
The second incident occurred in 2008, when 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson was decapitated by the speeding train after entering a restricted area by climbing over two six-foot fences. Apparently, he was either trying to retrieve a hat or take a shortcut back into the park after having lunch outside. Nobody on the ride was injured.
10. Superman: Ride Of Steel (Darien Lake)
Another superhero-themed ride, Ride of Steel is a steel roller coaster that is located at the Darien Lake theme park in Darien, New York. There is actually an identical roller coaster – Superman: Ride of Steel – that can be found at Six Flags America, which is quite close to Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
In 2011, an Iraq War veteran named James Hackemer was riding the Darien Lake version. Hackemer had lost both of his legs while on duty and, upon his return, he was enjoying a trip to the park with his family. Staff at the park had given him the okay to ride on Ride of Steel, in spite of his disability, but he slipped out of his seat belt when the ride went over a small bump near the end. Tragically, he fell to his death as a result.
9. The Rat (Loudoun Castle)
Loudoun Castle was a theme park that only opened in 1995, but closed in 2010, and was set around the ruins of a 19th century castle – Loudoun Castle – which is near Galston, Ayrshire, in Scotland. It was home to a number of modest roller coasters, one of which was The Rat – a classic “Wild Mouse” roller coaster.
In 2007, an 18-year-old worker at the park who had mild cerebral palsy died after falling 80 feet from the Rat ride at the Scottish Park. He was actually there on his day off when he saw one of the carriages on the ride get stuck. It was common for workers at the park to give carriages a push if they came to such a standstill. The worker climbed up to give the stalled carriage a push, but it started to move and he was pulled up to the highest point. At that point, he lost his grip and fell. He died a day later in hospital. The park closed the ride out of respect, even after it passed subsequent inspections.
8. Verrückt (Schlitterbahn Kansas City)
Verrückt (which is the German word meaning “crazy” or “insane”) was a water coaster at the Schlitterbahn Kansas City water park in Kansas City, Kansas. In 2014, when it opened, it surpassed the Kilimanjaro ride at Aldeia das Águas Park Resort in Brazil to become the world’s tallest water ride at a massive 168 feet 7 inches (or 51.38 metres) tall.
In 2016, Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old son of Scott Schwab, a Kansas state representative, was killed while riding Verrückt. The youngster was decapitated when the raft he was riding in went airborne and struck a metal support bar. Two other female passengers were injured too – one with a broken jawbone, the other with a broken bone in her face that required numerous stitches.
The park closed for two days pending an investigation, but the ride was shut down permanently and has been scheduled for demolition. Having discovered that the boy was seated at the front of the ride, investigators determined that he should have been seated in the middle of his heavier co-riders to make the weight distribution more even.
7. Derby Racer (Revere Beach)
The Derby Racer was the name of a pair of wooden roller coasters built at the first public beach in the United States – Revere Beach, which is in Revere, Massachusetts. The one we’re referring to here was the first of the two, which was built in 1911 and destroyed twenty-five years later in 1936. It had two trains, on a track shaped like the number 8, racing alongside each other. A number of tragic incidents occurred on the ride.
In 1911, the most ironic of these incidents occurred (it might actually be the most ironic death in roller coast history). The owner of the company that built the Derby Racer was delivering a speech to passengers about safety, while standing up in one of the cars, and fell to his death. Six years later, in 1917, another man fell from the ride, while reaching out of it to retrieve his fallen hat, and was effectively turned to paste as a consequence. Finally, in 1929, another fatality occurred when a passenger was hurled from the train.
6. Fujin Raijin II (Expoland)
The Fujin Raijin II roller coaster was located at Expoland in Suita, Osaka, Japan, prior to the park’s closure in 2009. In 2007, it was the subject of one of the most horrifying and largest scale accidents in theme park history. The accident resulted in the death of a 19-year-old student, as well as injuries to nineteen other passengers who were on the ride at the time.
The ride actually derailed, which was later revealed to have been due to a broken axle – and it came to light that none of the axles on the ride vehicles had been replaced for fifteen years – and the student’s head was scraped against a guardrail for 300 yards. The accident resulted in similar roller coasters being shut down all over Japan to investigate whether or not they had the same flaws. Expoland was cited for faulty maintenance when a second train was revealed to have similar axle cracks just one month later. The park’s closure came due to both a lack of customers and the owners simply knowing it was for their own good to close it.
5. The Big Dipper (Battersea Park)
The Big Dipper was a classic wooden roller coaster that opened in 1951 and was located at Battersea Park in London. In 1972, an accident occurred when one of the ride’s trains became detached from the lift chain and the anti-rollback mechanism on the track failed, which resulted in it rolling back to the station. It collided with the ride’s other train and derailed as a result.
Five children were tragically killed in the accident and another thirteen people were injured. The ride was immediately and permanently closed, being dismantled soon after. The incident and closure of the ride – which was Battersea Park’s most popular attraction – led to the decline in the popularity of the park as a whole, resulting in its inevitable eventual closure at the end of the 1974 season.
4. The Big Dipper (Krug Park)
We now come to the second roller coaster named “Big Dipper” on this list, so you might want to avoid any you come across with that name in the future! This one was at a park called Krug Park in Omaha, Nebraska and it occurred in 1930. When it happened, it was the most deadly roller coaster accident in the United States up to that point.
A brake malfunction caused by a bolt coming loose resulted in several cars falling 35 feet to the ground. Four people aged between 15 and 34 were killed, while 19 others were injured. As a result of the accident, Omaha City Council immediately passed an order that banned roller coasters within Omaha’s city limits. The park itself remained open, but business declined gradually to the extent that it was forced to close permanently in 1940.
3. Hydro (Oakwood Theme Park)
Hydro – which has been renamed “Drenched” since the incident we’re about to describe – is a water roller coaster at Oakwood Theme Park, which is a theme park in Pembrokeshire, Wales. In 2004, there was a terrible accident on the ride.
While riding Hydro, 16-year-old Hayley Williams was hurled out of her car very suddenly and fell 100 ft to the ground. She died from internal injuries some time later.
Oakwood Theme Park was given a fine of £250,000 for their negligence, as CCTV footage revealed that park employees regularly and habitually failed to check the bars and seat belts that kept riders safely in place on the ride (bars and seat belts that were actually deemed to be completely safe when used correctly).
The ride was closed for a year after the tragic incident, before reopening with its aforementioned new name. It now also has far more security and somewhat unnecessary restraints that go over riders’ shoulders instead of lap bars.
2. Coney Island Cyclone (Luna Park)
The Coney Island Cyclone, which was built in 1927 and is currently in the Luna Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City, is an iconic attraction – so much so that it was named a New York City landmark in 1988 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. It hasn’t been short of shocking incidents in its long existence, however.
In 1985, a 29-year-old man lost his life on the ride, after standing up and hitting his head on one of the ride’s crossbeams. In 1988, a 26-year-old man – a maintenance worker on his lunch break – fell from the ride while riding in the back seat and died from his injuries, after eluding the safety bar and standing up while going down the first hill. His fall saw him land on a crossbeam on a part of the track below and he died instantly. Finally, in 2007, a 53-year-old man was severely injured on the ride, suffering several crushed vertebrae in his neck caused by the sheer force of the first drop, and died four days later after surgery due to complications of his injury.
1. New Texas Giant (Six Flags Over Texas)
The New Texas Giant is a roller coaster that, having undergone a major 18-month refurbishment in 2011 to make the track steel, used to be a wooden roller coaster known simply as the Texas Giant. It can be found at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas. In 2013 there was a terrible accident on the ride that, according to several witnesses, could have been avoided.
52-year-old Rosa Ayala-Gaona Esparza had apparently expressed concern to park workers that her safety bar hadn’t closed properly, but ride workers dismissed her worries and tragedy struck on her subsequent ride – she fell 75 feet onto the roof of the “Honky Tonk Tunnel” area of the ride. Her body was nearly severed in half, while blood and traces of her body tissue were scattered in a 75-foot radius around where she landed.
Ms. Esparza’s daughter has said that, not long into the ride, she had looked behind to see that her mother’s head was on the floor and her feet were up in the air. Moments after that, her mother’s body flew out of the car.
An investigation found that mechanical failure wasn’t to blame for the accident, but the ride reopened with re-designed restraint bars, pads and seat belts anyway. The incident also prompted Six Flags to introduce precautionary seat belts on other roller coasters throughout their company.
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