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Accident at Disney Hollywood Studios' Indiana Jones show claims third Disney cast member in a month

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Published: August 18, 2009 at 8:19 AM

A Walt Disney World cast member is dead after an accident Monday evening at Hollywood Studios.

Stunt performer Anislav Varbanov, 30, was fatally injured during a rehearsal for the " Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular." He was doing a tumbling roll after 7 p.m. when he was hurt.

He was pronouced dead at 8.43pm.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on August 18, 2009 at 8:24 AM
You have to be freaking kidding me.

I'm sorry, but we're passing beyond the normal range of spurious correlation here. It really looks like it is past time for the federal OSHA to do a stem-to-strern investigation of employee safety at Walt Disney World. And Disney's labor unions should be out in front, demanding it.

Disney's safety record this summer is beyond pathetic.

From Kaycee G. on August 18, 2009 at 8:36 AM
Seriously???? No way. That is rediculous; what's going on at Disney? Actually, not just Disney but all the central/south florida parks!!! Especially with the stunt shows. Maybe it's time for them to be rescripted with safer stunts.
From 129.171.150.71 on August 18, 2009 at 8:41 AM
I am a tremendous fan of WDW, but this third incident in such a short period of time is perhaps just three too many for me.

I think the state government needs to intervene...not that they will do a much better job, but perhaps it will cause WDW management to start tightening things up around there. All these deaths can't just be coincidence.

These last two deaths are from falling, head injuries. I'm starting to wonder if perhaps these people are being overworked due to the cutbacks taking place. Maybe they are working too many hours, are tired, and making mistakes that cost their lives. I'm sure we will hear more about this.

Very sad indeed. My condolences to the family and fellow cast members.

From Raul Araoz on August 18, 2009 at 8:44 AM
I have to believe that this rash of injuries and deaths comes from behind the scenes cut backs.
From Justin Moore on August 18, 2009 at 8:47 AM
Wow. The magical glare is really rubbing off this summer for our friends at WDW. I hate to see such a sad reality check - especially for the families of these employees. As NBC Miami called it: Disney's looking more like a "Tragic Kingdom" lately.

I'm still not convinced these events are more than a freakish (and tragic) coincidence this summer. But a very, very close look is still in order.

From TH Creative on August 18, 2009 at 8:53 AM
Mr. Niles writes: " It really looks like it is past time for the federal OSHA to do a stem-to-strern investigation of employee safety at Walt Disney World."

I respond: I'm sure they will. But I am wondering what OSHA would do (or could have done) if this tragedy was caused not by the working environment but rather an acrobatic maneuver gone awry (Orlando Sentinel: "He was doing a tumbling roll after 7 p.m. when he was hurt.")

From Robert Niles on August 18, 2009 at 8:58 AM
Let's not forget that there will be three lawsuits from cast members' families against the Walt Disney Company over their relatives' deaths. And that each of the three will be able to point to the other two in establishing a pattern of failure in protecting employee safety, which will be used to inflate requests for punitive damages against the company.

Disney knows this, and will adjust its proposed settlements to the families, accordingly.

Disney is facing substantial financial claims over these incidents.

From Robert Niles on August 18, 2009 at 9:04 AM
To TH,

Part of Disney's responsibility as an employer is to ensure that the performer has been shown and has demonstrated how to do the maneuver in a safe manner. That's what OSHA would examine, and potentially require Disney to re-review with each of its performers.

With two stunt deaths in a short period, that should raise a red flag about the training that performers are getting. Maybe it is coincidence, maybe not. But someone needs to come in and prod Disney to re-review safety with its employees, to help better ensure that this does not happen again.

And the whole monorail incident appears to have been a management melt-down of colossal proportion.

From TH Creative on August 18, 2009 at 9:09 AM
Mr. Niles writes: Part of Disney's responsibility as an employer is to ensure that the performer has been shown and has demonstrated how to do the maneuver in a safe manner. That's what OSHA would examine, and potentially require Disney to re-review with each of its performers.

I Respond: Correct. But as of this writing there is no evidence that Disney did not "ensure that the performer has been shown and has demonstrated how to do the maneuver in a safe manner." And, it's my understanding that all stunt performers are union members whose stewards should also ensure safety as well.

Mr. Niles writes: With two stunt deaths in a short period, that should raise a red flag about the training that performers are getting.

I Respond: It's my understanding that the previous death occurred because the performer slipped and fell on a wet spot on the stage. And that he was not doing stunt work at the time.

From TH Creative on August 18, 2009 at 9:13 AM
And if the stage was wet, that's a working environment problem and Disney's responsibility.
From Tim W on August 18, 2009 at 9:14 AM
This is just bad. whats going on disney? Its having so many sorrowful deaths of cast members. Hopefully there wont be any more. But maybe it is just time to close the indiana stunt show, its old enough already.
From Robert Niles on August 18, 2009 at 9:15 AM
True, but I think you'll agree, TH: Post three employee deaths in a month on your worksite, and odds are you'll be getting a call from the feds. As it should be.
From TH Creative on August 18, 2009 at 9:21 AM
Mr. Niles, for the past ten years I have worked on several large scale construction projects where job site safety is a priority. I have my OSHA 30 hour certification and am considered qualified to be a safety rep for a subcontractor. Whenever there is a work-related death by statute OSHA must investigate.
From Gareth H on August 18, 2009 at 9:26 AM
Someone want to work out what park in Fla will be affected next? Seems to be a pattern here, Disney, Uni, BGA, Disney etc etc
From 205.179.65.195 on August 18, 2009 at 9:59 AM
Gareth,

Ouch, too soon...

It's a bad time all around for safety. Just what is going on out there?

And I'm genuinely curious about RH's statement regarding the monorail incident. What has been uncovered so far?

From TH Creative on August 18, 2009 at 10:03 AM
It's not just the parks. On the construction job I am working on now, in the past two months there have been dozens of accidents. Most recently the coupling on a high pressured hose section pumping cement for a light weight roof popped. The hose flayed out of control and hit some guy in the head breaking his jaw. Last week guys working on installing windows in the building knocked a ladder over the edge. It fell 21 floors and (thankfully) did not land on anyone. Yesterday, on a lower level convention roof, workers were tossing sheet metal debris to the ground. They use a spotter on the ground to keep people away. The spotter was not paying attention and a guy walked into the danger zone. The piece of sheet metal that hit him in the head actually split open his hard hat -- creating a nasty head wound.
From Joshua Counsil on August 18, 2009 at 10:58 AM
Like I asked several weeks ago, is this summer abnormally bad for accidents?
From Anthony Murphy on August 18, 2009 at 11:57 AM
I am not sure what OSHA could have done to prevent this. Now I do not know all the details, but it sounds that this individual was injured while doing more or less what he was supposed to be doing.

Sure OSHA should look into the pattern, but really, I think its just been a unlucky summer for WDW since it seems that of the big three deaths at WDW, all three are freaky incidents and two current ones appear to be something in which the person could have easily have been injured instead of dead.

Again, bad new for Disney and the family, but I don't think a witch hunt on Disney via OSHA is going to solve any problems

From brian lochridge on August 18, 2009 at 12:10 PM
Personal responsibility.

In the case of the Monorail accident I'm with everyone else who blames Disney, but these last two deaths? Come on People. I work for one of the largest Companies in the world, they do what they can to keep me safe when I'm at work, but if I fall down the stairs when I'm going to Lunch how is it the companies fault. Better yet, if I die how is suing them for millions going to make things any easier for my family?

Before we all throw Disney under the bus and say there responsible for all these deaths let’s look at the facts.

TH Creative
You said you work on large construction projects. If one of your employees is working on some scaffolding and decides to unclip his safety harness for comfort, if he falls it's his fault. In this case your company has spent time and money training the employees the correct way to tie in and remain safe. If the employee chooses to ignore the safety instructions he/she was given does the burden of responsibility fall on the Employee? Where do you draw the line of responsibility for the Employer?

From 12.33.45.253 on August 18, 2009 at 12:13 PM
Very tragic. My condolences to the family. However, I'm not sure Disney is to blame. As previously stated, these are incidents which could have resulted in injury, not death.
From 69.122.57.31 on August 18, 2009 at 12:25 PM
this is getting SICK...i know from being an ex cm..i did college program, my shifts were 12-14 hours long, 5 to 6 days a week during peak season...plus they gave the option of overtime...when will they learn!!!!
From Robert Niles on August 18, 2009 at 1:17 PM
Hey, folks, cast member deaths affect me like almost nothing else on the site.

When I worked as a lead at Disney World, my CMs were like my kids are now. They were my responsibility to lead and to protect. That's how I felt about the guests in my area when I worked as an operator, too.

There were *plenty* of occasions at Disney when I could have stuck to the narrow duties of my assigned tasks and watched someone get hurt. I never did. My job wasn't simply to performed my assigned tasks. It was to keep myself and the people around me safe, before all else. After that, I was to give them a good show.

One afternoon driving the Tom Sawyer's Island rafts, I'd just cast off from the mainland dock and was about to put the raft into forward gear when I saw an Indian family gesturing to someone onshore. (They weren't speaking English, so verbal communication was off the table.)

I looked toward the dock, and, sure enough, here came a middle-aged Indian woman, in a sari, running toward the water like she was going to jump for it.

There was *no way* she was going to make it. Now, do I continue with my assigned task and drive the raft to the island, hoping that common sense will prevail and she'd stop?

Heck, no. I slammed the raft into reverse and swung the front end around, back toward the dock, so that the woman could make the jump without falling in the river.

Yeah, I effectively rewarded some guests for breaking a slew of park rules. But I kept that woman from falling in the river, or worse. Safety was my top priority.

Having monorail managers supervise track switches from a restaurant isn't putting safety first. Sending performers out on wet stages isn't putting safety first. And, obviously, from the fact that a performer died, safety wasn't adequately protected at the Indiana Jones stage last night.

I don't know who to blame for any of these. I hope that OSHA will. But I had also hoped that the first death would have inspired someone, inside the Walt Disney Company or outside it, to demand that Disney re-emphasize to all of its employees the importance of protecting the safety for fellow employees and guests.

Obviously, that message didn't get through to enough cast members before the second death. And now, the third.

Perhaps I value human life a bit more than some of the other readers of this site (to be clear, I'm not talking about TH here, who seems to me as tenacious about safety as I am). But I cannot tolerate deaths in theme parks. I believe that every single theme park death is preventable, and should be.

And even if they can't, that level of vigilance is what is necessary to keep the number of deaths to an absolute minimum.

I'm not seeing that vigilance at the Walt Disney World Resort right now. And that disturbs me, greatly. Someone, inside Disney or in the Florida or federal governments, needs to fix this.

From brian lochridge on August 18, 2009 at 1:50 PM
Sending someone out on a wet stage and not monitoring the switches on the Monorail are two very different things Robert.

I'm with you that every Human life is precious. Sending out a performer to a wet stage where that person has a choice to perform or not can't be compared to someone leaving there post at the Monorail switch where hundreds are in danger.

The driver of the Monorail was doing what he was supposed to do, he even tried to move the train to save others. The performers on the wet stage had a choice, and obviously thought conditions were tolerable to perform. No one at Disney forced either of the performers out on stage.

What I'm trying to figure out is why is it someone else’s fault? Why couldn't either of the most recent deaths be true accident where the victim was at fault? I would like to know like everyone else what happened and what can be done to prevent this from happening again. That said, I'm not prepared to say the federal government needs to step in and take charge when most signs point to the victims being at fault. If I slip in a puddle of water it's not the person who caused the puddles fault, it's my fault for not seeing the puddle.

From Christopher Combs on August 18, 2009 at 2:04 PM
I agree with Brian above. He just saved me alot of typing for my comment. Thats all I really got to say about this.
From 97.104.151.63 on August 18, 2009 at 3:15 PM
Brian asks: "Why couldn't either of the most recent deaths be true accident where the victim was at fault?."

I Respond: It is my understanding that the water was on a stage where the actor was performing. That really is a work environment designed by the company. Before the sets foot on that stage (work environment) where his attention (per the direction of his employer) is on his performance. In that context it seems incumbent upon his employer to ensure that while he is going through that performance the stage (work enviroment) is free of hazards.

To put it another way, if a Disney Loss/Prevention Manager had seen the water on the stage, he would have directed that it be removed before the performance began -- in order to provide a safe work environment.

From 97.104.151.63 on August 18, 2009 at 3:17 PM
Mr. Lockridge asks: "Why couldn't either of the most recent deaths be true accident where the victim was at fault?."

I Respond: In the case of the second incident, it is my understanding that the water was on a stage where the actor was performing. That really is a work environment designed by the company. Before the sets foot on that stage (work environment) where his attention (per the direction of his employer) is on his performance. In that context it seems incumbent upon his employer to ensure that while he is going through that performance the stage (work enviroment) is free of hazards.

To put it another way, if a Disney Loss/Prevention Manager had seen the water on the stage, he would have directed that it be removed before the performance began -- in order to provide a safe work environment.

From 70.121.33.155 on August 18, 2009 at 3:34 PM
I too am very saddened at another person's death at Disney. We are annual passholders and went to the Indiana Jones show the past few weekends, and at one of them, I believe I saw this young man perform. I would like to know if the part he played was that of the "audience member" who goes in front of the stage pre-show with other real audience members. At one point, she (the host) asked him his name, and he gave some Russian sounding name which might have actually been his own name. He wore a turban and is asked to balance on one foot with both hands out to his sides. Later on, they "picked" him to demonstrate a fight scene. The tall actor playing the German is too big, so the producer then calls over the young lady with the blonde hair to demonstrate the punches with this young man because she is shorter. He took several "punches" to the stomach, flipped, and tumbled, and then he did a stunt which caused the audience to gasp and cringe--after one punch by the young lady stuntperson, he flipped and landed vertically on his head with feet straight up in the air, kind of like in slow motion, to a point. Last weekend, a different performer did the very same stunt. I can understand how someone could severely hurt his neck and even die with this stunt and how one wrong miscalculation could break a neck. Was this really the stunt that caused his death? I would like to see this stunt eliminated, even if it was not. It is way too dangerous. As an audience member, the show is great without it. We do not want anyone else to die at Disney. It is just horrible. I am still so very upset about this that there are no words to describe it. I am also getting rather disgusted too about the loss of life and do not feel that these are coincidences. If Disney is not making things safe for their own employee family, what if they are not keeping things safe for park guests either! Angie
From Anthony Murphy on August 18, 2009 at 8:44 PM
I am not saying that the death is not sad or Disney shouldn't be investigated, but the deaths are getting stranger and stranger and I am not sure what can be done.

I hope you all know I do not take this death lightly or jokingly, especially because Disney claims to be BIG on safety, which is something that I think Robert is coming from. Disney has some big "pillars" that they like to follow such as safety, show, effecientcy, and a few others I can't remember at the moment. I think everybody values life on the site, but you mentioned it before Robert, you have been there and lived it.

Kudos to Robert Niles though. TPI serves a huge service to all being one of the few places that has a credible accident list for all the parks.

Even after all this time, the death is really strange in my opinion. OSHA going or not is not in debate. Even if this poor guy was hurt, they would have been called. I just think that on the surface, Disney could not have prevented this accident like the first two, especially the monorail incident.

Should they look into it? Sure, but I am afraid they will not find anything.

Doing thier job from a resturant in Monorail incident? I have never heard that story which makes it seem more horrifying!

From Rob P on August 19, 2009 at 12:45 AM
First of all I'd like to send my condolences to the family of the man who has lost his life whilst rehearsing for a show intended to entertain the rest of us.

My cousin is Elvin Bale. Once known as the greatest daredevil in the world and revered by everyone in the business including Evel Kneivel.
During one show he suffered a terrible accident when one of his stunts went wrong and his career as a performer ended. He could so easily have been killed but thankfully was not.( He still trains new stars at Cole Bros )

My point is that, despite every stunt being rehearsed and honed to perfection and every safety measure taken , accidents WILL happen in this business. It's a sad fact of life and stunt performers all know the risks. That's why I , like many others, respect so much what they do for us in the name of entertainment

That said , I sincerely hope that Disney is allowing the necessary skill levels to be achieved before performers become part of the act. The same applies to all CMs in positions of responsibiilty for either their own or someone else's saftey at WDW.

The number of tragedies in such a short time period is pretty high and would suggest that something isn't right. Age isn't an issue but experience certainly is. It doesn't matter if a monorail driver is young or old so long as he's fit for the job.

Everything must be done to minimise the risk of injury or worse to Park staff. Let's hope that it is and that Disney is not failing in it's duty of care.

From 67.172.65.249 on August 19, 2009 at 7:17 AM
I can't say much, I mean accidents happen all the time. You see people visiting the park getting hurt. And ultimately everyone wants to blame the company. And basically for money reasons. It can never be the actual persons fault.

I do send the prayers to those that lost the family members, but at the same time I can only say that they were accidents. I mean for one, the water could have been from the stunt show itself. There is no telling if it was previously there or not.

And how exactly did the person die from doing a tumble roll.

The only accident that can actually be investigated was the monorail crash. Someone was at fault, and someone wasn't paying attention because you can see those monorails coming from a ways away. Especially if you are sitting in the cabins. And I have been on those during its stops, it don't take that long to stop the cars.

From 205.188.116.20 on August 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM
These stunts are dangerous but they are for entertainment. Remeber, this is a occupational hazard! Only one person has passed away during the indiana Jones stunt show at disney. The other was a monorail incident and the last was a falling stunt performed wrong during a Jack Sparrow Toutorial...

Although Sad, there is not much disney can or should do...

From Sylvain Comeau on August 19, 2009 at 3:00 PM
It's ridiculous to blame Disney for this. If you've seen the show, you know that there is a bit of risk for the performers; that's the nature of stunts. Yes I realize that there has been a rash of employee deaths at WDW this summer, but the circumstances were so completely different, how can you blame Disney management? Sometimes unfortunate things happen in clusters. That's life.
From TH Creative on August 19, 2009 at 4:29 PM
Sylvain Comeau Writes: It's ridiculous to blame Disney for this.

I Respond: Actually what is "ridiculous" would be someone drawing ANY conclusion before a full investigation is complete.

From TH Creative on August 20, 2009 at 6:14 AM
And it continues ...

This morning at the Peabody construction site. Two guys on a mastclimber (a 22 story tall moving scaffold) fail to secure a 12 foot plank. It gets knocked off the climber and falls 17 stories to the ground below. Thankfully, no one was injured.

From Anthony Murphy on August 20, 2009 at 6:40 AM
I hope there is an investigation into it. I am curious to find out what happened. From what I read, there was troubles with Indy when it opened with injuries and OSHSA, but they seemed to have fixed that.

Oh and while its still too many, three Disney Cast Members did not die in one month. The monorail thing happened Early July and then these two happened in mid August. It doesn't really matter since three is WAY too much two months, but just a thought!

From 195.8.168.252 on August 21, 2009 at 2:53 AM
I've actually been to see the show myself this year whilst holidaying in Orlando and it was great.

What part was the guy who was killed actually playing?

Was he in the lead role of Indiana himself or one of the supporting actors?

From 74.190.161.160 on August 23, 2009 at 9:02 PM
i'm not sure the family members can bring lawsuits...i'm sure in the profession of "stuntman" you have to sign all kinds of waivers/releases of liability etc....but hopefully they had good health insurance eh? sad...disney is like...alright damnit...let's see if you can get this stunt right...next!! They don't care otherwise they'd postpone filming...3 deaths in a month is a lot for one movie...i mean damn...but it's all about that mighty mighty dollar!

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