1The worst theme park tragedy in U.S. history
The worst theme park accident in U.S. history occurred on May 11, 1984, at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. There, fire took the lives of eight teenagers trapped inside the Haunted Castle attraction.
The castle was made of 17 interconnected commercial trailers and plywood frames. It had no fire protection, and many safety features were unusable. The exit lights were burnt out, and fire alarms were vandalized and never replaced. Exit doors were allegedly chained and emergency exits were fenced in and not accessible by patrons.
A 14-year-old was alleged to have sparked his lighter. While doing so, he bumped into the polyurethane covered wall, and the fire spread quickly due to the flammable props. Patrons poured out of the structure, but eight did not make it. Their bodies were burned beyond recognition, so much that firefighters were initially unsure if they were real or mannequins.
Six Flags was indicted for aggravated manslaughter, but denied any culpability, contending that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives. The trial jury found the defendants not guilty.
2The boy who died on the world's highest water slide
Caleb Thomas Schwab, 10, the son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, was killed in August 2016 while riding the "Verruckt" water slide at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City.
At 168 feet with 264 stairs leading up, Verruckt is taller than the Statue of Liberty and has been certified as the world's tallest water slide by Guinness World Records. Riders go down the slide in multi-person rafts and have to be at last 54 inches tall, according to the park's website. (There was once an age restriction of 14 and over, but that was done away with, as it was deemed the height requirement alone was sufficient.)
Witness Esteban Castaneda heard booms and saw a body wash down the slide directly after a raft did. He rushed over as a lifeguard tried to push the crowd back, and continued to try to help because he thought there was a boy lying face down in the water. It was at that point that he noticed the boy appeared to have been decapitated. Another witness said she's seen Caleb fly out of the ride after the first drop and hit the netting enclosing it before plummeting 50ft.
Currently, there are no federal inspection laws for waterparks in the U.S. Inspections are handled on a state-by-state basis.
3The Disneyland cast member who was killed by moving walls during a show
All the Disney theme parks have had their share of tragedy, but none has captured more of the public's attention than the story of 18-year-old Debbie Stone. She met her fate while working the America Sings attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim, California in 1974.
Stone was an America Sings cast member whose job it was to usher guests into one of several seating areas. She moved between stages during intermissions as they rotated into place for the next act (as did other employees). During one such rotation, Stone got caught between an interior wall and that of the moving platform and was trapped by the rotating stage. The ride was halted when other cast members were alerted to her screams by guests, but it was too late — she was crushed to death.
The attraction closed for two days while new warning lights were installed, but the stage on which she died remained closed for over a year. Breakaway safety walls were also built in an attempt to increase safety. America Sings closed for good on Sunday, April 10, 1988.
4The teen who was decapitated by a Batman roller coaster
In 2008, 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson scaled a restricted area at Six Flags Over Georgia in an attempt to retrieve a hat he lost while riding the Batman roller coaster. That move cost him his life.
Ferguson climbed two six-foot fences and passed signs that said the restricted area was both off-limits and dangerous to visitors. The ride was going full-speed (50 mph) when the teen was struck and decapitated.
5The Ohio park where three lives were snuffed out in two separate incidents on the same day
Two unrelated freak accidents claimed three lives at Kings Island Amusement Park in Kings Mills, Ohio in 1991.
22-year-old Timothy Binning was attempting to retrieve a lost item in a fenced-in pond in the park when an electrical current jolted him. His friend, William Haithcoat, 21, waded in to help him and was fatally shocked. They were followed by a park security guard, Darrell Robertson, 20, who was also fatally shocked. Haithcoat and Robertson both died, but Binning survived.
In another incident on the same day, Candy Taylor, a 32-year-old mother of two, was riding alone on Flight Commander. Riders were secured by an over-the-shoulder bar and lap bar, but witnesses alleged that Taylor might have been straining and twisting to watch the emergency helicopters brought to the scene of the other accident. Taylor fell from the ride capsule, striking the ground head first. She was rushed to Miami Valley Hospital, where she was pronounced dead of multiple body trauma caused by the fall.
6The notorious New Jersey theme park that claimed six lives
We've covered certain aspects of New Jersey's Action Park before, in Oddee's 10 Strange Summer Vacation Stories and 8 Strange Slides. The park was known as one of the most dangerous in existence, and also had its share of fatalities — three people drowned in the wave pool alone. In other incidents, a park employee was riding the Alpine Slide when his car jumped the track, a kayaker attempted to right his tipped craft and was electrocuted, and a visitor suffered a fatal heart attack triggered by the shock of the cold water beneath the Tarzan Swing.
Action Park stayed open till 1996. It reopened two years later as Mountain Creek Waterpark, with completely revamped rides. In 2014, the park reverted back to its original name. Let's hope the place is a little safer this go around.
7The world's worst roller coaster accident occurred in a nearly-forgotten London theme park in 1972
Once located in in Battersea Park, London's Big Dipper roller coaster dated back to 1951 when it was established during the Festival of Britain. It attracted long lines of people hoping to experience the “thrill-a-minute joyride where you pay to be scared."
One a spring day in 1972, with 31 people on board, the three-car wooden train suddenly detached from the steel drive train holding it on the wooden track. It then slipped backward, hit a tight turn, and the last carriage derailed. Five were killed, and thirteen were injured.
The Big Dipper was immediately closed and dismantled. With no main attraction the fun fair suffered from low attendance and was closed for good in 1974.
8The indoor roller coaster in China which claimed six lives and left several more injured
In 2010, passengers on Space Journey, a simulated rocket ride in Shenzhen, China, said that the smell of burning electronics and a sudden loss of power preceded the deadly incident that killed six and left several more injured.
The ride was housed under a dome 24 meters in diameter and was built to suggest the vast expanse of the universe. 40-odd passengers spun and bobbed in four-person carts. One of 11 capsules on the ride came detached, slamming into the others.
Check out the video below that offers a possible simulation of the disaster:
9The three people who were thown to their deaths while riding a mall roller coaster
On June 14, 1986, Rod Chayko, 25, and his best friend David Sager, 24, took a day trip from Calgary to Edmonton to visit West Edmonton Mall for the first time. It was there they decided to ride the Mindbender — then the world's largest triple-loop indoor roller-coaster.
They were seated in the last car of the four-car train. It was there that bolts were missing on the left inside wheel assembly, and as the cars approaching the third and final loop, they were suddenly off the track. As they speed to complete the run, they stalled at the top before sliding backward and crashing into a concrete pillar.
Sager was killed, as were two other riders — Tony Mandrusiak, 24, and his fiancé Cindy Sims, 21. Chayko was left with two broken legs, a broken pelvis, broken shoulder and a punctured lung. He remained in the hospital for more than six months and had to learn to walk again.
The ride was closed for several months after the incident. It was redesigned and has been accident-free ever since.