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Cause of Death Determined in Disneyland Crash

Disneyland: The Orange County Coroner said that Marcelo Torres bled to death after a massive blunt force blow to his chest. Will this discovery raise questions about the appropriateness of the ride's restraint system?

From Robert Niles
Posted September 10, 2003 at 10:47 AM
Marcelo Torres of Gardena bled to death on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Orange County Coroner's office announced.

Physicians performing the autopsy found that the 22-year-old suffered a massive blunt force trauma to the chest. Torres was sitting in the front passenger car of the roller coaster when it crashed last Friday morning at Disney's flagship park in Anaheim, Calif.

"Something hit him in the chest, causing his ribs to fracture and lacerate his lungs, and he bled to death," Joseph Luckey, supervising deputy coroner, told the L.A. Times. Paramedics arrived on the scene within two minutes of the accident, according to multiple news reports.

The question remains, however, did something fly into the victim's chest, or did Torres fly into some object on the train or in the tunnel? An answer, which will have to come from additional investigation at the scene, will help direct future debate on the appropriateness of the ride's restraint system, even as the investigation continues into the ride's mechanical failures.

* * *

Restraint systems are the last line of defense protecting passengers on theme park rides. Thunder Mountain uses a simple lap bar restraint, the type that Theme Park Insider previously identified as inadequate to protect riders in many accidents.

In that article, as well as in G Forces Aren't the Only Issue, Theme Park Insider readers discussed the failure of current ride restraint systems, most notably lap bars, in protecting riders from certain types of injury. Automakers and government regulators determined years ago that lap belts were insufficient to protect drivers and passengers in automobiles. So today, passenger cars in the United States come equipped with combination shoulder and lab belts. Our articles suggested that the theme park industry eventually would make a similar switch, removing lap bars in favor of more restrictive restraint systems, such as over the shoulder harnesses or should/lap belts.

Perhaps the failures on Thunder Mountain were so catastrophic that no restraint system could have saved Torres' life once the awful chain of events began. Several systems must have failed to allow the tragedy at Thunder Mountain to happen. A complex array of mechanical and computer systems were in place to prevent trains from crashing. Those systems are redundant, designed in a way that other systems can protect the ride should one fail. Yet the accident demonstrated that this ride could not withstand whatever failures happened last Friday morning. And that the ride's "last line of defense" was not enough to protect its riders from harm.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 10, 2003 at 11:16 AM
Arent some companies getting rid of their over the shoulder restraints for lap bars??? Like on the Flight of Fear coasters at PKI/PKD.
Replacing lap bars with seat belts & over the shoulder restraints would be a major negative IMHO and basically get rid or air time on a roller coaster ride.
Lap Bars are more than sufficient and getting rid of them as you proposed would ruin many rides.
But of course the people that will use the typical"if it can save just one life mantra" will use any accident, no matter what caused the accident as a opportunity to push a agenda, like markey has in the past.
Im more than willing to use a lap bar on a ride rather than changing to a over the shoulder restaint/seat belt combo. The lap bar, if reports are correct was still engaged after the accident and the rider wasnt thrown from the car so the lap bar did its job correctly and.

From Robert Verginia
Posted September 10, 2003 at 11:17 AM
Robert - While I agree with most of your opinions, you are way off on this one.

Numbers show that you are much more likely to die in an earthquake, or by lightning, than you are at an amusement park. That being the case, I think we need to require that all residents of Calif. immediately begin wearing helmets - 24/7, in case there is a quake. Additionally, all residents of the US needs to carry lightning rods at all times.

Your seatbelt/harness argument relating to cars is fine - for cars. Cars are subject to forward and side crash loads as a part of their everyday operation. While they don't experience these loads daily, the potential is always there.

Amusement rides are also subject to similar potential loads, but the chance of incident is too low to calculate, so it need not be considered.

Even if maintenence is good, and you take all of the preventative steps available, sometimes things just break.

Taking all the fun and 'perceived danger' out of rides will quickly make the ride boring, while not preventing life threatening freak accidents.

Remember when Fabio got smacked in the face by a seagull while riding a coaster? Should we put windshields on coasters?

Restraints should only be designed to keep the rider in the ride - not to keep the world away from the rider.

From T.Holland Creative
Posted September 10, 2003 at 12:16 PM
Kudos to Mr. Robert Verginia for his poignant response to Mr. Niles' comments on the Disney accident.

You can design and maintain and train and monitor attractions ad infinitum. But no matter how much time and money are invested odds are -- over time -- an accident will occur. Not all will result in death. Not all will result in injury. But when you are a major theme park, welcoming millions of guests every year -- over time -- an incident resulting in injury or worse is likely to occur.

While you cannot overstate the tragedy of losing a life, you most certainly can over compensate in response to an incident -- embracing a reactionary approach that is occasionally unnecessary and -- odds are -- likely to be ineffective over the long run.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 10, 2003 at 2:09 PM
Read the post, folks. The entire post. But not stuff that isn't in the post.

Note that I remarked that the collision might have been such that no restraint system could have saved the victim. This investigation might however help advance an emerging debate on how to best protect passengers on theme park rides. Now that we have a cause of death determined in this incident, that discussion can begin.

In recent years, automobiles have gone from lap belts to combo belts, air bags and improved cockpit design. Children's car seats have been marked more advanced. Yet on theme park rides, many riders continue to complain about restraints that are uncomfortable or even that contribute to injuries. Certain restraints, such as one-size-for-the-row lap bars fail to secure all but the largest passenger in the row. Clearly, many rides could have better restraint systems. With each failure, the industry learns more about the interaction between riders and restraint systems, creating the opportunity for improvement.

Perhaps in some situations, an individual lap bar might be the best option. But I find it hard to envision a scenario in which a multi-person lap bar provides the best protection. Perhaps on a coaster than caters exclusively to twins?

Part of a restraint system's role to is support the theme and effect of the ride. It is not the system's primary role, of course, but it is an important part of the system's job. A bulky, rigid over-the-shoulder restraint would look ridiculous and out-of-place on a ride like Thunder Mountain. Engineers and designers must find a system that protect passengers from the ride's forces and potential failures, while serving the overall theme of the ride. And yes, that's a tough challenge.

I'd be the last person to argue in favor of sacrificing theme and effect for safety. If that is our only option, then let's just forget about theme park rides. But this need not be an either/or question. Let's not reduce this emerging debate to the flawed two-dimensional, with-us-or-against-us argument that has infected too many of our public debates.

Yes, the industry as a whole has done relatively well in protecting its visitors over the past several decades. But if Disneyland continues derailing coasters and injuring and killing customers at the rate it has over the past five years (two deaths and three derailments with injuries), there won't be a Disneyland very much longer. Disney, and the industry as a whole, must do even better than it has. Visitors, who have more and more options each year for where to spend their money, will demand it.

From Joe Lane
Posted September 10, 2003 at 5:17 PM
I'm somewhat surprised by some of the responses to Robert's post and the only reason I can find for their existence is in light of a good, clean debate.

I reference my blog entry for this first point: we are a society that loves to be thrilled, to be scared. We want it all bigger, faster, longer, and we want in now! We want more G's, greater air time, and you know as well as I do that there's only so far we can push the envelope before it becomes life-threatening. By all means, make the most thrilling attraction you can come up with, but please, keep it safe. It's rather shallow to say a thrill or two is more important than an individual's safety--or their life. That's why we pay 50 bucks a pop, to enjoy ourselves and have fun, not to increase are potential for dying.

This brings me to the argument regarding accidents on theme park rides as compared to accidents anywhere else. And you're darn right accident numbers on theme park rides are low, that's the way they should be. But to drag Mother Nature into this is unnecessary. We have no control over natural disasters (or birds, for that matter), but the parks are responsible for the design and maintenance of these rides. And while the guest has a responsibility to adhere to safety rules and regulations, they have no control over the ride itself. As you can see, there's a greater responsibility at play here.

To say that we can check and double check rides as much as possible and still have something go wrong, well, it's feasible. In fact, even with proper maintenance, things do wear out, I acknowledge that. But the goal is to make it so that IF something breaks, it doesn't result in someone's death, or incapacitate them in any way. The latest David Koenig article (thanks again, Klawe), brings to light some interesting developments in the lack of proper maintenance at Disneyland. How long has BTMRR been operating? Is it not peculiar that now, in their older years, when proper maintenance is more important than ever, that budget cutbacks have made it difficult to keep repairs up to date?

These are all hypothetical questions, for sure. Even though we have an idea of how Mr. Torres passed away, we still don't know why the coaster broke as it did. Once again, it's a matter of time as the investigation continues.

I'd also like to add that I want to be sure everyone knows I don't want to see Disney fall in this incident. In some ways, as one poster stated earlier in our previous thread, the damage has been done to Disney's image. But it should be understood that I'm not one who wishes to see the Disney empire crumble to pieces, and this is the same feeling for a lot of people! We want to see it improve, to better itself, to be as it once was years ago--a shining visage of excellence in family-oriented entertainment. Sometimes I feel it's too far gone. But I've got hope that something will change.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted September 10, 2003 at 5:38 PM
I have a couple questions for people who may have some more knowledge about the accident than I do.
1)When the Cast Members/Paramedics got to the scene, was Mr. Torres still in the unit he was riding in? If he was, could we then assume that the injury happened while he was seated, and was not a result of inappropriate behaviour on his part?

2)I asked this on the earlier post, but I'll ask it here again (it was anonymous the last time) Does anyone have any information about when the last time BTMRR went through a major rehab?

My condolences and Prayers go out to the family and friends of Mr. Torres. I also want to remind everyone to think of the CM's who were working BTMRR. I am a rides supervisor at a major theme park. One of the things that I have had to learn is that sometimes people get seriously hurt or injured on some of my rides. That is my absolute worst nightmare. Not only for me, but for my crew, and for anyone else working in the industry. Regardless of whether or not it was preventable, those CM's have to live with the fact that they were running that ride when someone got killed.

If anyone happens to know the CM's who were working (or are able to get a message to them) please tell them that there is support out here for them, and that we know they did the best they could under the circumstances.

I would also like to credit DL with their quick response time. All accounts that I've heard say that Paramedics were on scene within five minutes of the incident happening. That is almost unheard of anywhere!

From T.Holland Creative
Posted September 10, 2003 at 6:30 PM
Regarding improvements in safety restraints. Having worked on attractions such as 'Men In Black' and Florida's 'Revenge of the Mummy,' I would like to relate my experience regarding the issue.

First, engineers designing the restraint for any ride are contractually obligated to meet ASTM industry standards. These standards are established by representatives from throughout the theme park construction and design industry. These general standards are set by engineers and other technical people based on engineering principles and the industry's experience.

After meeting these requirements, the manufacturer must meet the specifications of the client (theme park). These specifications are determined by the theme park's design and construction management teams, various consultants as well as the insurance agencies (and their various consultants) who would have to pay any claims due to restraint failures.

After that park operations chime in with their requirements -- again based on their technical knowledge and experience. In addition tech services (maintenance) then add their two cents.

Each of these parties is consulted at every point of the restraint system's development -- from concept, to design, to the examination of the prototype, to contractually required factory and field testing, to overall production and installation of the system, to quality control, maintenance and warranty issue and, finally, to implementation of improvements in the system.

I am not posting this to contradict or confront any idea presented here. Rather, I posting this to make the contention that the industry -- as a rule -- is CONSTANTLY monitoring restraint systems and other aspects of attraction design and operation for the purpose of assuring guest safety.

It cannot be denied that the perpensity of activity in this area leans toward improving safety. PERIOD!

From JP parking Guy
Posted September 10, 2003 at 8:09 PM
This could be the best post we have ever had here at TPI! Great journalism and ethics.

From Robert Niles
Posted September 10, 2003 at 8:41 PM
Let me tip this discussion a few degrees, T Holland. But before I do, I want to clarify that I don't have any reason to believe that major industry designers, including Universal Creative and Walt Disney Imagineering, are not doing anything less than their best to develop the most effective safety restraints for their new attractions, given what is known about biomechanics and effect of various safety restraints upon the human body. My two concerns, however, are: Are we as a society doing enough to study biomechanics, and is the industry doing enough to retrofit older rides with newer, more effective and more appropriate restraint technology?

Now, on to my question: If a team designing a new attraction knows (or even suspects) that the owner of that attraction is going to be, shall we say, less than aggressive about maintaining that attraction, does that then affect the way that those designers design the attraction? Specifically, does that affect the way they approach its safety systems? Should it? Or should designers approach their creations with the assumption that their owners will faithfully adhere to maintenance schedules, even if they know that might not happen?

This is the stuff that interests me, and that I am sure interests others on the board.

From Anonymous
Posted September 10, 2003 at 11:18 PM
I see everyone talking about budget cuts, but do we know for sure that safety has been compromised by these cuts. I see Disney shutting down rides for refurbishment more than any other theme park. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that they operate parks in geographic regions where the climate allows them to be open all year. They have their engineers perform the checks on the rides just like at any other major theme park. So what really is the answer? Maybe its just that accidents happen.

B

From Anonymous
Posted September 11, 2003 at 4:26 AM
Just some information :

Ride checks are not always done by "engineers", as in college educated , state examined and liscensed individuals. Many rides are maintained by mechanics who may not all be degreed or formally trained.

Within the amusement park realm of mechanics there are levels of expertise and experience. This means that a ride check could and IS performed by an individual who is not at the top of that parks practical experience or knowlege. You may have the Jr. mechanic own his own for the first time, even doing a ride's opening check for the first time.

In parks that are not year round in operations, that means the bulk of the park's mechanics are not full time employees- they are seasonal, temporary personnel! And yet, the ones who are year round must be like a jack-of-all trades in order to keep busy during the off season. I doubt they are working on rollercoaster tracks in the snow.


It is a fallacy to think there are highly trained and educated engineers performing the daily/ weekly/ monthly/ quarterly /biannual ride inspections. I do believe that their may be a real engineer on a parks payroll yet, I do not think they are the ones doing the work, to keep the rides functioning, on a daily basis.

The requirements to be a mechanic at a park vary from company to company. There are no state or national guidelines that evaluate the abilty of the mechanic. What one company hires as the Chief mechanic may be a Jr. mechanic in training at another park.

This is where I believe there could be imporovement to the safety standards.

For example: Firefighters and paramedics have national standards they must meet. Yes, they have individual state requirements, yet there is a standardization that allows one to go from one state to another, for work, and be evaluated with consistancy in what their education ,training, and experience means.
For example:
An employer would expect as a level II EMT(Emergency Medical Technician) that you know up up a designated area of knowlege,can perform up to a specific level of medical care , been tested on the material(and passed state exams) while having performed a minimum of so many hours on the ambulance as an active EMT.

A level II means the same in each state. You know what you are getting, with consistancy in your level II EMT's.

I believe a system of standardization is overdue for amusement park mechanics.

The government does not have to step in and do this. I am not for turning this idea into a law - so do not attack me later saying I want the government involved in this- I DO NOT.

The various amusement park organizations could impose their own standards and classifications to this area of employment within their industry, thus raising the bar on who is doing this vital work.

Another piece of data: The large amusemnt parks are not insured by an outside company. These parks are "Self Insured". I know that Disney, Six Flags, Busch Gardens and some other Great Lake area parks fall into this catagory.

Because of this self insuring, they write their OWN standards on what has to met. There is not an outside company evaluating the performance and threatening to drop the insurance if certain criterias are NOT met. In essence, they do not have to answer to anybody.

That is for another discussion.

S.F.

From Bryan Fear
Posted September 11, 2003 at 10:55 AM
Although some opinions may differ here, I actually agree with them all. I see them as all components of a bigger picture.

True, the restraint system of using a single bar is an outdated concept. It does not take into consideration that a large person and a small person sitting side by side receive inequal protection. It is also true that these are rollercoaster vehicles and not street vehicles which are expected to experience impacts from multiple angles. While a certain amount of danger is expected on a ride, injury and death are not expected. I have to agree with Robert Niles' point, which is that while there will always be danger the goal is to MINIMIZE the liklihood of injury or death. Since it is recognized that the existing lapbar restraint system is inadequate and someone has come up with better restraints ( Jason Hererra if no one else ) then they ride should be equiped with a more contemporary system.

I simply cannot agree that this accident was unavoidable. Although accidents still happen, a better restraint system was possible. Flaws were evident in the existing system. The restraints used in cars should theoretically support my point but I refuse to use that comparisson because these are not cars on a road. This is a ride, and rides have different tolerances and expectations than a car. Apples and oranges. Let's keep comparisons to rides.

Was the accident preventable? I don't know. Could other safety factors be considered in advance? Oh hell yeah. Anyone who read Robert's post from last August 2002 knew that.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 11, 2003 at 11:07 AM
So what restraint system would have stopped the guy from bleeding to death???? Ifg the rider was kept in the coaster car then the restraint did its job.
Myabe the accident could have been avoided/maybe not but accidents will happen and that is a part of life. The past several years how many deaths/serious injuries have been caused by improper restraints or malfunctioning rides. Amd then when you comp[are it too that millions and millions of coaster rides that have been ridden it shows these accident are very rare which show the parks are doing a great job watching out for our safety.
Or are we going to blame parks because somone dies on a coaster when gum chewing or standing up on a coaster which has happened this year.

From anneka pike
Posted September 11, 2003 at 11:16 AM
while talking about restraints on rides when i road the big thunder mt in paris this summer when the guy came along to check if the bar was down right he bearly even touched the bar!!!

From T.Holland Creative
Posted September 11, 2003 at 2:56 PM
MR. NILES ASKS: Now, on to my question: If a team designing a new attraction knows (or even suspects) that the owner of that attraction is going to be, shall we say, less than aggressive about maintaining that attraction, does that then affect the way that those designers design the attraction? Specifically, does that affect the way they approach its safety systems? Should it? Or should designers approach their creations with the assumption that their owners will faithfully adhere to maintenance schedules, even if they know that might not happen?

I RESPOND: THe question is kind of moot. First of all, the owner's construction/development team, operations team and tech services/maintenance teams all make decisions with autonomy throughout the design process. Meaning a designer could cut corners and slip it by operations, but then be "caught" (for lack of a better word) by tech services.

Second, the park owner provides the manufacturer with detailed requirements from the very beginning of the BID process. During that part of the process all of the POTENTIAL manufacturers correspond with the owner -- often peppering the owner with questions requiring detailed answers and amended drawings. It will interest you to know that during the bid process if Bidding Company #1 asks a question about any aspect of an attraction's design, both the question and the response is provided to all the other companies bidding on the project. Thus, even from the earliest point of development, effective design is the top priority.

The only reason the manufacturer is concerned with how an owner maintains its attractions is when it is effected by warranty issues. Just like when we buy a major appliance, the elements of an attraction -- be it a ride vehicle or animated figure -- are covered under warranties. But those warranties are only enforced if the owner meets regular inspection, maintenance and testing requirements.

In fact your question brings up an important point. Each of the ride vehicles on 'Men In Black' cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to build. It is FAR MORE COST EFFECTIVE to employ two technicans to maintain quality control standards that keep the warranty in effect than it would be to cut back on these programs and risk losing warranty coverage.

From Andrew Swanson
Posted September 11, 2003 at 5:28 PM
As a follow up to THC's response to Mr. Niles' question: Is the process you describe involving the manufacturer and operator different for companies like Disney and Universal than companies like Six Flags and Cedar Fair?

The reason I ask, is you mention the bidding process, and as I understand, typically Disney and Universal give their attraction design to in-house companies (WDI and UC, respectively) if WDI and UC need the assistance of an outside designer, they can then procede at that point.

Again, as I understand the situation, the other parks I mentioned ALWAYS use outside manufacturers for their attractions, instead of occasionally.

What I'm getting at is this: Without competition to see who's going to end up designing the attraction, could some of those corners be cut that you mentioned earlier, once it's turned over to operations?

From Robert Verginia
Posted September 11, 2003 at 6:17 PM
What possible advantage could there be in cutting corners in the design and manufacture of ride systems. All it would do is reduce safety and increase maintenance costs.

Full width lap bars are not as effective as individual lap bars, but how many have been injured or killed because of lap bars?

Over the shoulder restraints are responsible for more injuries than any other type of restraint. Is that the right direction to go?

Seat belts, in addition to lap bars are Six Flags minimum requirement for all coasters. Would this combination have saved the life of the young man on BTMRR? Sadly, no.

Many times the victims themselves are responsible for their own injury or death. If someone is intent on violating the safety rules, welding him into the car won't help.

I guess my point is that the true solution here is to find the cause of the accident, and fix it. Don't change the whole industry just because of one failure.

Sadly, accidents will occur.

The space shuttle Challenger accident, and subsequent investigation did not prevent the loss of the Columbia.

By saying that 'only so much can be done' does not give the parks license to cut corners. Equipment needs to be maintained and replaced on a prescribed schedule. This is an area that really could use more attention. Every item that is engineered has a projected lifespan. Knowing and respecting these things will go a long way towards preventing equipment failures that cause these types of accidents.

Sorry for the long post.
(BTW - Aren't there a lot of Roberts' on this page?)

From Joe Lane
Posted September 11, 2003 at 7:34 PM
Mr. OGrosky, are you missing the point in this discussion? Choking on gum or standing in a coaster would be considered guest fault, and should do nothing to affect a coaster's safety record.

And ratio comparing coaster deaths to riders, yes, one could infer that safety is excellent. Ratio comparing deaths/total number of riders at Disney would say the same thing, one would think that Disney's safety record is excellent, but the thing you need to consider is when these accidents occurred: they are all recent, within the past few years. If it had been from the parks opening over the years, then maybe your arguement that everything is safe would be more credible, but notice the recent pattern.

And T. Holland, your research is top notch (I can only assume that's personal experience in the industry) but would there be a difference compared to the age of BTMRR? Would the industry have done the same thing years ago, when the ride was first conceived?

And I actually have to give the nod to Robert Verginia this go around--we still don't know WHY the cars broke why they did. Pehaps that would be true, perhaps regardless of the restraint system, death would have occurred--in which case, we must focus our attention on WHAT caused the coaster to break, and once again, that's all speculation at this point, we have no clue.

A thought occurred to me: people freqently state accidents happen, and this is true, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do all we can to avoid them. To shrug your shoulders and refuse to do anything just because accidents happen seems like a really lousy attitude to portray.

From Jason Herrera
Posted September 11, 2003 at 7:46 PM
Choking on gum may be guest fault...but does that mean they can't have immediate access to basic medical care?

In order to free that lodged piece of gum.

Yes, accidents do happen. What's usually the result of an accident? Injury! Yet as a patron I have to wait for medical response with no type of intervention...looks like something else needs to be looked at!!!

From Derek Potter
Posted September 11, 2003 at 9:08 PM
Accidents do happen, but this one in particular seems strange. The logical explanation is that the restraint is the culprit, but I read that his riding buddy had "lacerations to his face". Would a properly padded lap bar, or any restraint for that matter cause something like that on Thunder Mountain? As far as safety issues are, it's true that seasonal parks employ many "nonprofessional" people to inspect rides, but I'm sure that the standard inspection guidelines were written by a pro, usually the manufacturer of the ride. To my understanding, the park bears the responsibility of inspection and safety. The manufacturer finishes the construction, does all the testing, and then turns it over to the park. If this was a brand new train or ride, then we may look to whoever built it, but the ride isn't new in this case.
I can understand that accidents happen, but when cars become detached from other cars, or wheels fall off (as was the case with gigacoaster Steel Dragon 2000 in Japan recently), it seems as though the park doesn't do their job thoroughly when inspecting rides. When chain lifts malfunction, that's one thing, but when metal and steel parts of a train just give out, it reeks of negligence. If the parts were stressed or worn, it should have been caught earlier. Whether they were negligent or not remains to be seen, and I certainly can't and won't place the blame on the parks until all evidence is presented. Hopefully it was just a freak accident.
Its a sad thing when the devices that are built for fun take lives. I hope that this is a wake up call to all those who may cut corners in the maintenance dept, or those in the office who cut the budget for it. Safety is always first, and no theme park should ever forget that.

From John Beck
Posted September 12, 2003 at 3:33 AM
All this debate is great but the cause of the accident is still to be determined (at least I haven't seen one published). Solutions, no matter how good and long overdue, are no good without knowing the cause and circumstances of this tragic accident.

From Jessica Donahoe
Posted September 12, 2003 at 7:56 AM
First thing, my sincere condolences to Mr. Torres' family. This was such a horrible tragedy and my prayers are with you.

The article explains that the restraints couldn't even save this man's life. In my opinion, replacing the restraint wouldn't help because the chest restraint is for those who are going to go upside down (which would look awkward on the Thunder Mountain) and the seatbelt restraint could work, but yet would be similar to the lap bar restraint. With the computer system, it was a good idea to have a system backing up another just in cause it failed but shouldn't there be something on the track to keep the cart on it? (like a guard rail?) There can be millions of other resolutions to safety for this ride. Disney Land as well as Disney World need to swallow their pride and let experienced inspectors inspect their rides. Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen at Walt Disney World because of the Florida Loop Hole, where it is illegal to have a state or federal inspector come inside the park and look at the rides. They have their own inspectors, but from what I've seen in reports, they are not very experienced. I do believe that if this ride was inspected by a more experienced eye, errors would have been found on the ride and could have prevented this tragedy.

I have a question: are the under Thunder Mountain rides in California and Disney World in Orlando, Florida the same design? This summer, I went to Disney World and went on Thunder Mountain. In one tunnel that I was on at Walt Disney World, I felt like I was either going to hit one of the walls or going to derail. Again, that could be the point of the ride--to make it seem and feel that you are going to hit something when you're not.

I know that one poster was detailing on how to fix parts and maintain the ride. I don't mean to sound cruel or anything but it is just like how car manufactors see it. What is more cost effective: recalling all cars that are defective (or in this case, defective rides) or paying out to the families that were killed or injured on the car (or ride)? Most companies choose paying out the family (which is sick and degrading).

That's my 3 cents on it ;-D

From Anonymous
Posted September 12, 2003 at 8:37 AM
A few people have posted suggesting that Disneyland should "swallow their pride" and allow government inspectors to come check out their rides. As someone that works in the ride design industry, I have a few comments on that.

My personal experience is that there are few to none government experts that have more experience with ride safety than Disney employees, but, let's say hypothetically, that there are government folks out there who's frequent inspections would make Disney rides safer. It's really not Disneyland's place to call up the government(by the way, are we talking local, county, state, or federal?), and say "hey, we'd like you guys to come out and inspect our stuff." The whole point of goverment inspections is that they're mandatory. If bad safety records ("bad" is up to interpretation, obviously) are enough to convince legislators that scheduling regular, frequent inspections of ride systems is important, they'll pass a law requiring such. The idea that Disney or anyone else has the power to "turn away" government inspectors is kinda silly.

I'm not sure what rules currently apply for Roller Coasters in California, but when my company builds an attraction it's typically inspected by government officials just a few times, during construction and upon completion. Maybe the rules do need to change. But I would expect that for the government to keep track of maintenance on every major theme park ride would be a very big change in the way things are done, and quite expensive.

In the aircraft industry, planes must be inspected and signed off annually by a mechanic with a federal "Inspection Authorization" certificate. Something along those lines for ride inspections might be the way to go.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 12, 2003 at 10:33 AM
Joe, While you may not believe that the deaths i mentioned should count against a coasters safety record, they will and will be counted as coaster deaths the same way as the death of Bug Thunder. Any death will be used by those who want to force big brother government to be our partner on any amusement park ride we go on. They will use these deaths and the Big Thunder death to force government regulation, and not for safety purposes as they allege but to involve government even more in our daily lives and to increae the power of government. As for pattern, what pattern??? When you are a park that is open 365 days a year with millions of visitors from time to tiume a accident will happen, but this doesnt show a pattern. Now if this was the 3/4 death on that ride in a year caused by the same set of circumstances then i would cosnider that a pattern, but the accident that have happened at DL and other parks are just random acts that will happen in life.
Jessica, the ride is supposed to give the feeling of aout of control train and make you belive you may hit something, and the ride does it job very well.
As for the government, i would like them spending more of their time making sure another shuttle doesnt explode instead of micromanaging theme park rides. Now what if theme parks had the same safety record of a government entity like NASA where the supposed best/brightest work, we would have deaths in the parks on a daily basis. And we are suppossed to depend on them to be the guardians of our safety??

From Joe Lane
Posted September 12, 2003 at 8:57 PM
Twisting words and blowing things out of proportion again. Anybody with common (or uncommon) sense recognized that a death caused by rider-misbehavior should not be death at the fault of the design and maintenance of the ride itself. That's why the earlier deaths at Disneyland, years ago, did not bring up so many questions regarding proper maintenance as these recent deaths do now.

As far as government involvement goes, you're beginning to sound like a conspiracy theorist. We don't need a government run agency--a separate national organization can work just as well, as long as they're granted recognition by the theme park industry.

And as for the pattern, it was also an idea suggested by Robert--that the recent deaths in theme parks have been attributed to poor maintenance (or in the case of the riverboat incident, operator error). Ever taken a statistics course before? The related cause of these instances suggest that something has changed within Disney to cause guest deaths not at the fault of the guest! It's cause and effect! If you neglect something mechanical, the odds of it breaking increase.

I shouldn't even be discussing this, because we STILL don't know HOW the train broke...

From Marc Flothe
Posted September 12, 2003 at 11:49 PM
Not trying to disrespectful to everyone, but why are discussing lap restraints when Mr. Torres was killed by a blow to the chest not by head trauma. It is kind of obvious that the lap restraints had nothing do with his death, Mr. Torres was not thrown from the vehicle at least to my knowledge he wasn't. My understanding is that he was still in the vehicle when they found him and his friend. In addition, it is my opinion that we should be talking about the possible breakage of the engine as the variable that led to this young's man death.

From Anonymous
Posted September 13, 2003 at 11:13 PM
My speculation is that the decorative "engine" car became unhitched from the rest of the train before or perhaps because of an E-stop. It probably rolled forward up an incline-then when it ran out of momentum-rolled back...

From Jeff Arons
Posted September 14, 2003 at 5:06 AM
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday to Jeff, happy birthday to me!

No really, today I'm 23!

From anneka pike
Posted September 14, 2003 at 6:44 AM
happy birthday!

From Jeff Arons
Posted September 14, 2003 at 10:15 AM
Thanks. Tomorrow I'm going to Alton Towers!

From Ben Mills
Posted September 14, 2003 at 2:44 PM
Why?

(Yeah, you were all expecting an anti-Tussauds comment from me, so I had to oblige.)

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 14, 2003 at 4:15 PM
Thew proponents of government regulation could care less if a death on a ride is caused by mechanical failure or rider error, any death will be counted in the total number of deaths that take place in theme parks and used as an excuse to force governemnt regulation on the industry!!!!!!
It would be nice if deaths that take place at theme parks that are caused by rider misbehavior wouldnt be counted against the parks but that isnt a reality at the current time.
If next year a rider fell off of Big Thunder and died due to rider misbehavior it would still be noted that the ride has had 2 deaths and something needs to be done to save us from this unsafe ride.
If we are going to use statistics in regards to injuries on rides we wouldnt even be having much of a discussion because when you factor in the millions and millions of rides offered at any park like Dl and compare it to the injury rate the number would be so small as to be totally insignificant.When a park gets millions(what is DL attendance, maybe 13-15 million??? not sure what number i have seen recently) of visitors per year who ride even more millions of rides the total number of injuries/deaths would be almost too small of a total as to register a blip on the screen.

From Joe Lane
Posted September 14, 2003 at 9:10 PM
It's not a matter of .001 deaths to trillions of visitors.

It's a matter that it happened at all.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted September 15, 2003 at 7:19 PM
While I agree that amusement rides should be as safe as possible, and that one death is one too many...sometimes it is simply unavoidable.

For example: I live in Southwestern Ontario, and during this summer we had an awful accident on the 400 (think interstate) highway. A truck careened across 2 lanes of traffic, broke through the median divider, through three more lanes of traffic finally ending up in a ditch. In the process, the truck hit two or three vehicles and ended up killing three people.

This sounds like an awful accident, and certainly it was. The first thing that came to my mind was that it was an inexperienced driver...or that the driver had fallen asleep...or that the truck had poor maintenance done on it. When they announced the reason for the accident, it shocked a lot of people. Without getting into a lot of specifics, what happened was that a part that wasn't supposed to break, and therefore not part of the daily inspection (though it was inspected regularly) broke.

My point (long and rambling though it is) is that sometimes things happen that are beyond the control of the operator, passenger, owner, or anyone else. This is just as true in the amusement park industry as it is in the trucking industry or anywhere else.

From Robert Verginia
Posted September 15, 2003 at 10:36 PM
Why should theme parks be exempt from the laws of probability? Accidents DO happen, and will CONTINUE to happen. To say they shouldn't is correct and proper. To say they CAN'T is just impossible.

I work for a "major airplane manufacturer". We build our planes the very best we can, as if our own family was going to fly on them. Sadly - airplanes still crash! It's a sad fact of what we do, but it doesn't mean that we say 'oh well, too bad' and ignore it. No! We take everything into consideration and make, or recommend improvements. No life is lost without some benefit to others.

The theme park industry owes us the safest ride possible. In return we need to respect the rules of the ride and enjoy a safe ride. If one of us doesn't keep our part of the bargain, people get hurt and some die.

Sorry for the reality check.

Government intervention will not make rides safer. I agree with the post that say's "nobody knows these rides better than Disney". The only thing the government will do is tell them to do what they are already doing!

From Anonymous
Posted September 16, 2003 at 8:20 AM
Anyone ever heard of a principle called ALARP? It's comonly employed in high risk industries. This principle demands that Risk (frequency x consequence) is demonstrably As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). In demonstrating risks are ALARP, you obviously have to consider the fact that, as a cosequence, death is just about as bad as it gets. Therefore, because Risk is the product of frequency and consequence, for such an unacceptable consequence as death, you have to ensure that the frequency of occurrance is very low such that the Risk (as calculated above)is then also acceptably low.

When is the Risk acceptably low? When it's ALARP. The 'Reasonably Practicable' part is demonstrated when it can be shown that further effort and expenditure is GROSSLY dissproportionate to any further safety benefits that could be gained.

So if operators could reasonably improve Direct benefits gained for a non-disproportionate cost) safety by reviewing design, operating practices, maintenance practices, staff competence, etc.. then they are not demonstrably ALARP unless they do so.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 16, 2003 at 11:37 AM
Well i guess Joe if we just pass legislation to outlaw accidents then they wont happen anymore right???
Or are accidents going to happen no matter how good maintence might be??
The sad reality is no matter how good your maintence is, there are going to be accidents, there is no machinery made that wont have a accident from time to time, nothing is perfect in this world.

From Joe Lane
Posted September 17, 2003 at 11:29 AM
I apologize, I can see my point is being missed entirely, so I'll try to keep this as simple as possible and provide web links to my source information--you can choose to read them or not, I really don't care, I'm just citing these sources for your benefit.

Disneyland opened in 1955. That's 48 years ago, just so you know.

Deaths at Disneyland have occurred over the years, but typically, the cause of death is due to guest misbehavior, and not mechanical failure.

Paul Pressler was named President of the Disneyland Resort in 1994 and later President of Disney Theme Parks and Resorts. Pressler worked for The Disney Store (a retail chain) before becoming President and was know by many to be a real penny-pincher. Merchandise was pushed to the forefront, and anything that required company expenditures was scaled down as much as possible (including maintanence). Jay Rasulo (former Disneyland Paris President) took over Pressler's position in 2002. Pressler went on to work for Gap, Inc. (again, a retail chain).

According to articles by journalists David Koenig and Al Lutz, many Disney CMs and maintanence crews have pointed out that the cost cuts made during Presslers tenure made it difficult to keep up with proper maintanence, not just attraction-wise, but simple things, including painting, janitorial services, and even proper staffing.

In the past SIX years (not FORTY-EIGHT, mind you, but SIX), there have been a total of four REPORTED incidents where poor maintanence (or CM training) has caused injury or death to guests: the incident in 1998 involving the Sailing Ship Columbia, two injury accidents on Space Mountain in 2000 and 2002, and now the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad tragedy.

I acknowledge, wholeheartedly, that accidents DO happen. But the current trend is either due to human action (guests goofing off on rides and ignoring rules) or human INaction (maintanence problems caused by recent budget cut-backs).

Don't be threatened by me. I'm not here to prove you wrong or call you an idiot, that's unethical and unprofessional. I'm here to try and show you a valid possiblity--something that many people agree is the cause and effect, and is far more substansial than the old adage "s--- happens". Think about it.

From Francois Chan
Posted September 17, 2003 at 2:06 PM
Actually, Joe, I think you're right on target...in fact, I've been waiting for someone to point out the disturbing correlation between the maintenance cuts being implemented by Disney's current adminstration and the rising percentage of injuries at Disney themeparks.

This rise in the accident rate is simply not acceptable, and I think this, above all the other problems themepark afficionados have had with Disney of late, should raise the hue and cry that Disney needs a change in its executive branch. This, above all else, proves that Disney's heads are not only acting stupidly but irresponsibly as well.

From Matthew Woodall
Posted September 17, 2003 at 5:56 PM
Before I am even partially convinced, I need to see more evidence. Has Disney's ridership increased in the time that it's maintenance budget has decreased? What about rehab time...is there more or less than before? and what about the ride operations themselves...is there any significant change in the last few years?

From Robert OGrosky
Posted September 18, 2003 at 11:09 AM
From what i have read on the interent(if true) indicates that DL has cutback on maintence. But it is too early to blame the current accident on maintence until more in known about the accident.
As for accidents(not deaths)who knows how many accident's occurred years ago that DL was able to keep out of the press and pay off the family that now would garner worldwide coverage?? Theme parks reside in a much bigger media fishbowl then they did years ago when friendly papers/reports would sit on stories when now that wouldnt happen.
And if these are caused by maintence issues lets hope disney uses this was a wakeup call to prevent more future incidents.

From ... ...
Posted September 25, 2003 at 2:47 PM
During my visits to both DL and WDW over the last six years, I have noticed a very alarming negative trend in overall customer service at both properties. When DCA opened, the warning lights should have gone off at Burbank. This theme park is a living testimony of what can happen when a company cuts corners. Everything there is cheaply themed, and poorly realized. And, when they had to close some of the rides due to lack of ridership, or because it cannot operate in winds over 10 mph, another warning bell should have gone off at Burbank. And now, the result of cut backs on maintenance has resulted in a very tragic accident. I hope this will not go by and be overshadowed by the relatively few accidents over the last 48 years. I hope that Burbank will realize that cutting corners is a foolish approach when running a theme park. Look at Tokyo Disney; They did not cut corners; opened days before 9/11, and have seen record attendance. I am so sick and tired of the nonsense at Disney. I am heartsick for the families that may only become a statistic in the eyes of The Legal Department at Disney. Dianne and Roy - PLEASE DO SOMETHING NOW.

From Anonymous
Posted September 27, 2003 at 5:22 PM
OK, I have read all of the posts and I think everyone has some good points here. Here are a few of my thoughts:
FACT: Somebody died, a tragic loss anyway you look at it.
REALITY: Somebody died, a tragic loss any way you look at it.
FACT: Accidents happen
REALITY: That's why they call them accidents, not "on purposes"
IF they improve the ride, everyone will complain about the attraction being closed. If they spend money, everyone will complain about the higher prices. If they don't raise the prices, the stock holders will complain about their dividend. I think it boils down to common sense. I think there is more danger in the park from the countless guests in the park doing stupid things like standing on railings, climbing the scenery and screwing with things, like the light bulbs in the que line for Indiana Jones for instance. I am more concerned about Eisner and his group erasing Walt and Mickey from the park and the company. There is a HUGE difference between DISNEYland and EISNERland.

From Anonymous
Posted October 10, 2003 at 10:02 PM
I forgot my password but my name is Kristin. I dont think its right they cut the cost and now are less safe. When I went to disney as a child the rides were much safer.

From Jason Herrera
Posted October 11, 2003 at 11:50 AM
Disneyland 911 transcripts released

Interesting story here. Any thoughts?

From Anonymous
Posted October 21, 2003 at 5:18 AM
AS educated and as PASSIONATE many of you are, what amazes me is that you are taking a stance that there are NOT many injuries at parks when the reality is WE DO NOT KNOW the accurate number of injuries-PERIOD.

The parks do NOT disclose the number of the reported injuries from their patrons at their parks..to ANY SOURCE!

THERE is no complete data base of injuries..... whether it was rider miscounduct, or mechaincal failure.... WE DONT NKOW! WE need to know. This lack of data needs to change somehow.

The ONLY source of reporting comes from the faulty NESS ( NATIONAL EMERGENCY ROOM SAMPLING SYSTEM- Kathy Fackler covers this on her site extensively) system and the individual patrons who come forward, reciveing media coverage about thier "event"/accident. NOT all of us come forward in the press!

I cannot get through to some of you that MAINTENANCE fails! That there can be NUMEROUS failures of a lap restraint bar and it can still go without being resolved by maintenance.

WE have records, the manintenance records prior to my "accident" showing there were over 31 incidents of lap bar problems PRIOR to my ride/"accident" that crippled me for life. I sent a copy of these records to Robert Niles, he can confirm this is true.

YES 31 incidents over a 2 month period, WITHOUT the restraint bar being properly fixed. I cannot call what happened to me an "ACCIDENT". IT was only a matter of time before SOME one got hurt.

I worry that this incident at Disney may be like mine. IT was matter of time.. waiting to happen...

I'll answer why the restraint bar plays into the chest injuries that led to Mr.Torres death on another post.

Untill you are involved in litigation with one of these parks , and recieve data from the "discovery" process, you really are at a disadvantage to understand how these parks operate.


Many of you are taking these companies with too much good will. You want to believe there are principles involved and there "aint".

Be well.

S.F. (survivor of "accident" on major thrill ride at major park-verified with MR Niles.)

From T.Holland Creative
Posted October 21, 2003 at 9:19 AM
Statistically speaking you are at a greater risk driving in a car to the grocery store than you are experiencing an attraction at a theme park.

From Anonymous
Posted October 21, 2003 at 1:07 PM
Hello all... First, I too, would like to express condolences to the families/friends of the deceased and injured as well. This accident happened two days after my hubby and I went for the first time in several years without our babies to the park, for our anniversary. We did not ride BTMRR due to a majorly heavy line, and lately it's been too jerky for us anyway.

That's one point I want to make... I've felt not necessarily unsafe myself on this ride, but uncomfortable due to being thrown around so much, and that rickety feeling of the ride. I ride it with my daughter, who is 7 and says it's one of her favorite rides. She still seems to want to ride it, even after I explained to her what happened (ie: death). She realizes her chances are slim, too. Anyway, the one problem I do have is the restraint system. I feel like my "tiny" daughter could just slip right out of those bars that are supposed to hold us in. I always make her sit on the inside, hoping she'll be okay. I also say a prayer for safety in the ride before we even board any of them. I believe the restraint system in BTMRR (safety bar) is the same one used in Space Mountain... this also bothers me, yet I have found myself riding it with my 7 year old who never seems to be afraid in the least (I'm just a mom, lol). I almost flew out of SM while riding with my dad about 20 years ago, and at that time I remember the cars being bobsled-style. My dad had to hold me down the entire time, and I cried through the whole traumatizing experience. I refused to ride SM again until the cars were changed and now I think it's very fun.

Well, I just want to reiterate what many here are saying... it's really too bad that this had to happen... but things happen sometimes that we just can't explain, and no amount of what ifs can bring that man back to life. If this was truly a fluke, then we need to try to just accept that. I know it's apples and oranges, but I went through an entire pregnancy taking great precautions to remain healthy for the baby's sake. He was stillborn a week before his due date. The good people at the hospital did numerous tests on mine and the baby's blood, etc, but could not figure out what went wrong. He was a nice, big, strong-looking baby, and otherwise beautiful and healthy. He just died for some uknown reason. The doctor told us that we had a one in a million chance of this happening again, and he has been right so far... we have had two very healthy girls in the last 3 years or so since the death of our son. Just goes to show you that you can never, ever really plan on anything. Even in an amusement park whose slogan is, "The Happiest Place On Earth". We didn't stop having kids for fear of losing another, and we will be renewing our annual passes to DL very soon because we love the place. Best wishes to all, and my prayers to all who have endured injuries or loss of loved ones in amusement parks. Thanks to my big bro who not only introduced me to rollercoasters but also to this great message board!! Love ya, bro! B.H.

From Robert OGrosky
Posted October 21, 2003 at 8:34 PM
I have ridden BTMR dozens of times, mostly at wdw and have never felt that the ride was unsafe and i wouldnt ride any ride if i believed that they are unsafe.
Accidents will happen no matter how good or bad the maintence is and for someone to expect rides too work flawless all the time without any accidents is asking the impossible.
Accidents will happen and if the parks are at fault they will suffer the consequences.
As for some type of data base of supposed injuries that would do little to stop accidents from happening but would be a godsend to the trial lawyers who would convince even people guilty of ride misconduct that they are owed money. All that ideas liker tha would accomplish would be legislation that would outlaw any fuin in theme/amusement parks!!!

From Jason Herrera
Posted October 22, 2003 at 10:12 PM
Accidents do happen. That's fact. Nothing's 100% safe! What's the usual result of an accident? Injury.

I don't care how well you design something, or how safe you are, if you don't have a sound response time, or deal with an injury in a timely manner, it's all for not.

I make something as safe as possible, there's an injury, and the injured victim is told to walk to first aid, with a sprained ankle, or a bloody nose. Spare me the, "we never do that at our park, " or, "We're told to call first aid." Because many workers are doing just that! I know. Heck, I've been studying theme park injury & wellness for over 3 years now. And this injury care trend is getting worse!

From Clinton Thompson
Posted July 8, 2009 at 6:53 AM
I can understand the lapbars are a bit odd, as a way of protection, but I've been fine with em ever since I was 6 when I first went to Disney World[FL] back in 1993 with that Thunder Mountain... Theres a theme park about 3-4hrs drive from where I am, its called Thorpe Park and its in Staines (UK) and theres this ride called Rush, and that only uses a lapbar, yet if ye look at that that thing is nasty...

From Anthony Murphy
Posted July 8, 2009 at 8:40 AM
So this is the oldest thread open on TPI?

From David Graham
Posted July 8, 2009 at 5:37 PM
Not true Anthony, the one about economy that we closed out last month maybe? That was the oldest one, I know, I went back through ALL the threads to find the oldest :-) I had WAY TOO MUCH free time at work that day...

From Rob P
Posted July 9, 2009 at 3:20 AM
Not true.
Wasn't the oldest thread the one where we discussed whether or not Ye Ole Disneyland should change from gas to new-fangled electricity ?

Little Bobby Niles ran TPI then , I believe.

From Robert Niles
Posted July 9, 2009 at 9:19 AM
Well, there was the one where we debated whether or not that asteroid impact would force Universal to switch from real dinosaurs to animatronics on the Jurassic Park ride.

TH and James just about killed each other over that one.

From Anthony Murphy
Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:48 AM
Well, with all this talking, I've worked up quite a thirst. I think I'll take one of those new fangled trolleys down to the drug store soda fountain and meet the boys for a cold sarsaparilla. Oh... ha ha, I'm sorry, I forgot... we're drinking root beer now! Same kind of thing, different name. Well, that's progress for you. Speaking of progress...

From James Rao
Posted July 9, 2009 at 10:50 AM
True dat, Robert!

43 to go....

From Bob Miller
Posted July 9, 2009 at 5:34 PM
Hey James, just looked at the banner on top.

Top Tips spelled backwards is Spit Pot!!!!!

From James Rao
Posted July 9, 2009 at 6:19 PM
Welcome back, Bob! How was your trip?

From Bob Miller
Posted July 10, 2009 at 4:14 AM
It was great James. We filled out a trip review last night, but Robert hasn't posted it yet. Thanks for asking.

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