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What happened on It's a Small World at Disneyland Paris?

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Published: October 6, 2010 at 12:34 PM

Just got this note from a reliable source:

"Disneyland Paris staff member dies on it's a small world. Ride was turned back on when staff member was cleaning."

On the road, so please post more information in the comments, if you have it.

Update: From the AP:

"Police say a preliminary investigation indicates the worker got trapped beneath a boat on the ride when it was inadvertently turned on before dawn Wednesday."

Obviously, a horrible situation that should not have happened and we ache for the family involved.

I'll slip into ex-ride ops cast member mode now. Disclaimer: I never worked Small World in my time at Disney, but I did work Pirates, which once had a similar ride system.

We did not have a "tagging" system at Pirates, as we did at Thunder Mountain, which might be relevant if no tagging system was in place at Paris' Small World. A tagging system is a cabinet that contains plastic tags, which workers take whenever they are out on the ride's track. If you see an empty spot in the cabinet, that means someone's tagged out, so you cannot start the ride until you find that tag and it is returned to the ride's operation tower.

Obviously, with a tagging system in place, there's no way to have a worker out on the ride when it starts - unless the worker or the tower operator ignores the tagging system, which is pretty much grounds for immediate termination.

Also, there's no such thing as a ride "inadvertently" starting. That would represent a system failure so catastrophic that it would necessitate taking down every other ride system like it around the world until the system could be fixed. No, someone likely intentionally started that ride, but without knowing someone else was out in the show building.

Even if the ride started with a worker in the show building, that wouldn't necessarily lead to an accident. At Pirates, we once operated the ride with cast members in the water and no one was ever hit by a boat. The one essential rule at water rides, like Pirates and Small World, is to never go inside the flume.

The flume consists of two metal panels within which the boats float through the attraction. (Look over the side when riding sometime, and you'll see the flume walls under the water.) The flume is exactly the width of the boats, so there would be no room for a person to fit alongside. If you are caught inside the flume, there's no where to go but under the boats.

Which is why there is no standard operating procedure that calls for people to be inside the ride flume on rides such as this unless all the water's been drained from the building.

Given the report that the victim was a 53-year-old employee of a park subcontractor, I suspect that unfamiliarity with the "never go inside the flume" rule may have proven tragic here. But we will need to wait for a complete report.

Of course, that also raises the question what an untrained contractor was doing inside an operational ride building. Again, we'll have to wait for a completed investigation to have answers to that.

Readers' Opinions

From Gareth H on October 6, 2010 at 12:38 PM
Link to story - http://www.wesh.com/entertainment/25303576/detail.html
From Joshua Counsil on October 6, 2010 at 12:43 PM
Oh, man. That's gruesome. Two theme park deaths in one week.
From Jorge Arnoldson on October 6, 2010 at 12:45 PM
This doesn't look like it makes any sense.
From Daniel Etcheberry on October 6, 2010 at 1:41 PM
The boats at this ride travel very slow; how come he didn't have time to get out of the way?

Was there water when this happened?

From M. Ryan Traylor on October 6, 2010 at 2:32 PM
No matter how fast the current is moving, once entrapment is involved in a river or flume, the outcome is never good.

I've done many white water rafting trips. The first rule is stay in the boat. The second rule is never stand up in the river. Water, in large amounts, is very very strong.

From 68.246.254.206 on October 6, 2010 at 2:34 PM
Sounds similar to the MK Skyway accident of 99...maintenance working and a CM starts the ride without knowing (my brother was a Skyway Cm at the time...luckily didnt have a shift until later that night).
From Bobby Miller on October 6, 2010 at 2:54 PM
Robert, the same type of tag system is used by hard coal mining, at least here in Pennsylvania. It's been around for many, many years. It's used so that in case of an underground mining accident, they can look at the board and see which men may be trapped, like down in Chile. My dad was killed down inside a mine. My sympathy to the man's family.

Bobby, formally known as Bob & Robert!!!!!!!

From 24.90.255.115 on October 6, 2010 at 5:39 PM
sounds like the same thing that happend during the oldmill ride death at playland. maybe he fell or tripped off the platform
From 82.174.242.83 on October 6, 2010 at 10:58 PM
how could this happen, it's horrible.
what should i think when i go to disney. "hum...someone died here..."
From 86.155.248.10 on October 8, 2010 at 4:15 PM
This is awful just got back from Disneyland Paris this evening. Ride has been closed since Wednesday. We had no idea this had happened. Our thoughts go out to the family.
From 207.154.59.124 on October 8, 2010 at 5:58 PM
i think that this dosen'nt make any sense. Even if he was in the water, the current isn't very strong. Also i've been on small world, and the boats are incredibly slow. how could he NOT move out of the way? And whlistening to the rules either?! could this be a suicide ?
From Larry Zimmerman on October 10, 2010 at 5:35 PM
It's always sad when an object of so much joy results in someone's untimely death.

Let's hope the French equivalent of OSHA prods Disneyland Paris to make the necessary procedural corrections to avoid a repeat of this mishap.

From 65.47.250.230 on October 11, 2010 at 10:24 AM
In the US and especially here in California there is a Tag Out system that must be used any time an employee is working in a Danger area. It consists of a Personal Tag placed at the control panel for the unit or power source indicating the unit may not be operated and a system or lock to remove power form the unit to prevent start up. I don't know about European safety standards but here even a sub-contrator and their employees MUST use a Tag system when working on or in a dangerous area. I'm sorry to read about these tragedies and it is a reminder to not take the act of working around powered equipment for granted and we are all responsible for our own safety and that of co-workers and customers.
From 94.173.9.23 on October 12, 2010 at 1:25 AM
European Safety standards are amongst the highest in the World, probably more so than the US. We have the EU for god sake, they stop any sort've fun and games to be had at work by implementing new H & S procedures.

I imagine the fact this gentleman was a sub-contractor has alot to do with it and him not knowing the correct procedures. Its such a shame that this has happened in such a wonderful place. Thoughts go out to his family and friends.

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