Not Amused at the Park

Oh, how we love to be amused (Pin It)

Oh, how we love to be amused (Pin It)

I used to love going to amusement parks.

In a way, I still do, but things are different when you’re a grown-up. Gone is the magic of a child’s imagination being unleashed in a fun-packed, frenzy-inducing wonderland—unless you have kids and live vicariously through them, which isn’t really the same. In its place is still a little wonder, but now it’s blanketed by frustration, impatience, exhaustion and, to be honest, even some anger from time to time.

Instead of endless rides, games, candy and other pleasures, adults enjoy long lines, inflated prices, crowded parking lots, rude people, angry children—because face it, someone is going to get pissed before the day ends—and all sorts of other rude and annoying behavior. Honestly, adults behave no better than children. And there are times when I prefer only the young ones to accompany me, wishing others would do the same so we could cut the adult population significantly.

At least that way there would be fewer slow walkers to block your path, crowd farters to stink up the lines—especially around water rides, for some strange reason—and generally unpleasant humans to destroy what little magic still exists at amusement parks for adults. Since that obviously isn’t going to happen, I must join everyone else in visiting these places for one reason: so my kid can experience the magic I lost so long ago.

It’s worth it, I suppose, but these days you also have to worry about safety. The news is filled with stories of rides that went horribly wrong, excessive heat that cooked visitors or other tragic mishaps and accidents that ruined the fun at one of these magical places. And these stories always come in summer, the so-called “bread and butter” of amusement park business.

Restraints in a Texas Giant car malfunctioned (Six Flags)

Restraints in a Texas Giant car malfunctioned (Six Flags)

Even this summer has seen its share of amusement park accidents and, consequently, people are getting hurt and killed all over the place. This past Friday, for instance, a woman riding the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington mysteriously fell out on a steep turn and died. Actually, it wasn’t that mysterious because witnesses reported hearing the woman complain that her safety harness was not locking properly just before the fateful ride began. The attendant’s reaction was typical of some of the jackasses you find manning these rides.

“He was basically nonchalant,” Carmen Brown told reporters after witnessing everything from her place in line. “He was like, ‘As long as you heard it click, you’re fine.’ Hers was the only one that went down once, and she didn’t feel safe. But they still let her get on the ride.”

Moments later, Brown watched as the woman fell from her seat to certain death.

“The lady basically tumbled over,” she said. “We heard her screaming. We were like, ‘Did she just fall?’”

An investigation is underway, of course, and the ride has been closed, but otherwise life goes on at Six Flags. That’s more than I can say for the poor victim of this senseless tragedy, not to mention her son, who was riding with her when this happened. It is fortunate that more people weren’t hurt, like those involved in another amusement park accident on Friday.

I’m starting to sense that Friday may not be the best time to head to places like Busch Gardens or Knott’s Berry Farm. Maybe rides need a day to loosen up and shake off the cobwebs before they can truly be safe. It’s worth investigating if this happens to correspond to anyone’s graduate school research or something. I would be very interested to know if Saturday’s annoying crowds were also safer. They would be much easier to bear if this was true, and I might be less of an asshole as a result. It’s a win-win situation.

Shoot the Rapids (Associated Press)

Shoot the Rapids (Associated Press)

Anyway, Friday’s second accident happened at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio—an amusement park rated the best in the world for 15 consecutive years. This record was reset when a boat on the Shoot the Rapids ride malfunctioned, rolled backward down a hill and flipped over in the water with seven passengers aboard. All seven suffered minor injuries, but thankfully, no one was killed.

Their day was ruined, I’m sure, but they were lucky enough to walk away from this freak accident. Others—like that woman in Texas—aren’t so lucky, and I found myself wondering what the worst amusement park accidents might be. Morbid, I know, but what can I say? I’m a product of all those crime dramas and procedurals on television just like many of you, so don’t be hating. Instead, meet some people for whom these parks were not amusing, but deadly instead.

These stories shouldn’t prevent you from visiting your favorite amusement parks this summer, but should instead serve as cautionary tales to reinforce the importance of safety. They should also remind you that no matter how safe you are, simply visiting an amusement park means relinquishing much of this responsibility to the park itself—especially the people who service and operate the rides. Most of the time things are perfectly fine. Every once in a while, though—and by virtue of basic probability—something goes wrong. I only hope none of us ever have to experience what these people went through. Believe me.

Superman: Tower of Power (Hageman)

Superman: Tower of Power (Hageman)

June 2007: Kaitlyn Lassiter was 13 years old when she went to Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville with family and friends. The group eventually arrived at the Superman: Tower of Power, a thrill ride that rises hundreds of feet in the air and suddenly drops passengers into free fall. As Kaitlyn and her friends were rising to the top—about twenty feet up—they felt a jolt. Cables started to whip around and drop on them, some wrapping around their necks, but they were able to get themselves free. Unfortunately for Kaitlyn, one of the cables swirled at her feet and severed both of them below the ankle. Doctors were able to reattach her right foot, but it was too late for her left leg, which had to be amputated below the knee.

May 2002 & June 2008: With so many amusement parks in their entertainment family, the Six Flags people also run the risk of experiencing the most tragic accidents. Consider what happened at Six Flags Over Georgia, first in 2002. That’s when a 58-year-old employee entered a restricted area of the roller coaster Batman the Ride, must have forgotten it was operational and got clipped in the head by the feet of a 14-year-old girl in the coaster’s front car. The girl suffered only a minor leg injury, but the employee was killed instantly. Tragic.

The second Batman mishap came in 2008 when a 17-year-old boy from Columbia, South Carolina—part of a group from Oakey Spring Baptist Church in Springfield—snuck into the same restricted area and tried to grab the feet of passengers in the cars speeding by… at 50 miles per hour, no less. Needless to say, losing his head and doing something so reckless resulted in the young man losing his head literally. He was clipped and decapitated by the passing cars. Pretty gross, to say the least.

April 2004: Shortly after her 16th birthday, Haley Williams went with her mother and younger sister to Oakwood Theme Park in Pembrokeshire of the United Kingdom. They decided to get on the Hydro ride, which stands 120 feet tall, seats 24 people in each boat and includes a near-vertical drop of 100 feet at roughly 50 miles per hour. Sadly, one of the park’s staff members did not check to ensure Haley was restrained properly and when the boat tipped over the first drop, Haley tipped over the edge. She fell over 100 feet to her death and will never celebrate her 17th birthday. Heartbreaking.

Disaster at Expoland in Osaka (Theme Park Review)

Disaster at Expoland in Osaka (Theme Park Review)

May 2008: It was Children’s Day in Osaka, Japan, so many decided to celebrate by visiting the Expoland amusement park. One of the park’s main attractions was Fujin Raijin II, a stand-up rollercoaster known for its speed and excitement. Unfortunately, the ride was not known for frequent safety and equipment inspections, the last coming over two years earlier. Things came to a head when a faulty axle on one of the cars caused it to derail, with the following cars piling up behind it. By the time it was all over, a 19-year-old girl was dead and another 21 people were seriously injured. Witnesses said it was so disturbing that it left them feeling sick to their stomachs. I’m sure the person tasked with collecting that kid’s severed head in Georgia would sympathize.

February 2006: Wendy Christensen was a high school senior and photographer who had a premonition before riding the Devil’s Flight roller coaster at an amusement park near her home—there was going to be a disaster and a lot of people were going to die. After boarding the ride—and after noticing a lot of details from her premonition being repeated in reality—Wendy decided not to take any chances and freaked out until she, her boyfriend and several others were escorted away. Moments later, her worst fears were realized when—true to her premonition—the coaster crashed and killed everyone.

What if a screw comes loose? (Daglian Law)

What if a screw comes loose? (Daglian Law)

Okay, that last example is actually the opening sequence of Final Destination 3, but it does make my point. Amusement parks are fun, for some people, but they can also be dangerous. Always be as safe as possible while you’re there, as if that needs to be said. But you might also consider “getting your nerd on” and doing some research before you go. Park safety records may not prevent every accident from happening, but they might help reassure you that your park is as safe as it can be. Just remember that the biggest danger comes from the one thing none of us can ever escape or prevent: human error.

People make mistakes, of course, but here’s hoping that none of those people work at amusement parks!

Posted on July 20, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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