We turn to them for days of fun and excitement and jump on their rides without pause to catch a thrill, but amusement parks aren’t always safe havens for a wholesome good time. Due to the nature of this installment, it may not be suitable for younger viewers.
Dubbed the “worst roller coaster tragedy in history”, the 1972 accident at Battersea Park, London took the lives of five patrons and injured 16 others. In mid-operation, a three-car wooden coaster on The Big Dipper detached from the haulage rope, which acted as a mechanism to keep the carts from rolling backwards. As the carts sped dangerously in reverse around a bend, they started to derail completely, sending people over the edge. One witness account from Carolyn Adamczyk, who was 14-years-old at the time of the tragedy, recounts being stranded on a carriage 49-feet or 15-meters above the park when a girl on her cart put her weight on an unstable barrier and fell to her death.
Any ride that simulates a rocket launch is bound to be shaky, but shaky and deadly are on completely different ends of the spectrum. The Space Journey ride at the Ecoventure Valley of Overseas Chinese Town in Shenzhen experienced a deadly event in June of 2010 that resulted in six deaths and 10 injuries. Witness reports provided varying degrees of what actually happened, ranging from power failure to an explosion on the ride itself. It’s believed that one of the 11 carriages, which hold up to 4 people each, dislodged and knocked into the other cabins, causing the ride to malfunction and fall the 49-feet or 15-meters to the ground.
Though more than enough mechanical failures and ride accidents are caused by lackadaisical and sometimes malicious employees, sometimes accidents are at the fault of the patrons. Waterworld USA in Concord, California was the site of a grisly and bloody scene when 30 students attempted to ride down the Banzai Pipeline all at once. Ignoring the lifeguard’s warnings, the teenagers rushed up the 75-foot or 23-meter tall slide all at once as they tried to break a school record. The slide gave out under their combined weight and crumbled to the ground, injuring 30 and collapsing 18-year-old Quimby Ghilotti’s lung, killing her. Later reports state the ride was under the stress of 3x the weight it was designed for.
Six Flags Great Adventure
One sort of assumes that, when they’re hearing about accidents and deaths at amusement parks, they’ll be hearing all about roller coasters and high-speed attractions malfunctioning. Such is not the case in the 1984 incident at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey. Eight teenagers lost their lives on May 11th, 1984 when a fire rapidly spread throughout the Haunted Castle attraction. Allegedly started by a youth who accidentally lit a foam wall pad on fire with a lit cigarette he used to light a darkened corridor, the fire was exacerbated by the lack of a sprinkler system. Despite being indicted for aggravated manslaughter for not taking proper precautions against fire hazards, Six Flags was found not guilty.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Being so reliant on mechanics and other people’s ability to properly do their jobs to upkeep said mechanics, it’s no surprise that the Happiest Place on Earth has had its own slew of dark days. One of them was September 5th, 2003, when the locomotive of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad derailed and disconnected from the passenger cars. The car slammed into the underside of the locomotive, injuring 10 of the riders and killing 22-year-old Marcelo Torres. According to reports, Marcelo suffered severe blunt-force trauma and internal bleeding after an axle came loose and the locomotive went airborne. The accident was believed to be caused by the mechanics’ failure and willful omissions to perform routine maintenance.
It was a calm Saturday in August of 2013 and the 25-meter or 82-foot tall Ferris Wheel was sporting carts of joyous customers when things took a turn for the worst. A car that was at the very top of the wheel’s height broke loose, dislodged, and began the full descent to the crowded ground below. Crashing down on the ride’s queue, the car injured 7 individuals, including 3 children. Along with the 7 injured patrons, the terrifying accident also killed two sisters, 12 and 14-year old Florencia and Emilie Aranda. A week prior, the Ferris Wheel had been taken out of service for repairs and two individuals were said to have been arrested in connection with the incident.
Six Flags Over Georgia
Known for its endless thrills and exciting rides, the name Six Flags is synonymous with fun and entertainment. That, of course, does not exempt it from tragedy; and in 2008, tragedy struck hard with the gruesome death of 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson at the Six Flags Over Georgia location. The teenager had scaled several fences to enter a restricted area, allegedly to retrieve a hat he had lost while riding the Batman roller coaster earlier that day. The cart was believed to be operating at the ride’s top speed of 50 miles or 80 kilometers per hour, decapitating Ferguson upon impact.
A total of 20 patrons of the Expoland amusement park in Suita, Osaka Prefecture were affected in the May 5th, 2007 incident involving the Fujin Raijin II rollercoaster. What was originally thought to be a freak accident where the roller coaster derailed, killing 19-year-old Yoshino Kogawara and injuring 19 others, turned out to be a case of employee negligence. Former board member Masanori Ito, former facilities head, Atsushi Tatebe, and former head of engineering Hiroshi Matsuda, were blamed for neglecting to perform scheduled maintenance on the ride. Cracks in the roller coaster and 15-year-old axle parts were among the issues noted on the ride, incriminating the three former employees and linking them directly to Kogawara’s death.
M&D Amusement Park
It’s never good for business when a ride is closed one day for maintenance and then derails entirely the next. At Scotland’s M&D’s theme park, the ride was the Tsunami, a rollercoaster that was in need of minor electrical repairs on June 25th, 2016. On June 26th, the coaster detached from the rails and crashed through the metal gate. The car was 33 feet or 10 meters high when it derailed and came down on a children’s bike area. Surprisingly and thankfully, nobody died, though 10 individuals were injured from the incident. Of those 10, 8 were children and three were considered severely injured. The ensuing chaos was enough to shut the park down to allow for the six ambulances, a team of doctors, and a specialist operation team to tend to the wounded.
Darien Lake Theme Park Resort
In July of 2011, James Thomas Hackemer, a U.S. Army veteran, and double amputee lost his life after venturing the Ride of Steel roller coaster. The ride, which reaches speeds in excess of 70 miles or 113 kilometers per hour, flung Hackemer out of his seat from a height of 150 feet or 46 meters to his death. The war hero wasn’t wearing his prosthetic legs at the time and while park officials stated all assistance was provided for his disability, upon further review it was determined that operator error was to blame and park workers didn’t follow rules that require riders to have both legs.