PENNIES FROM KEVIN - The Matterhorn Sends a Woman to the Hospital!!

The focus is once again on the safety of Disney's rides. Is Disney doing enough? Or is the media once again hopping on one of its boring bandwagons?

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: June 29, 2005 at 12:55 AM

LA Times - Jun 29

One of my local news channels tried to make me jump out of my seat during a commercial break a couple hours ago with this announcement: "Disney shuts down ANOTHER ride! News at 11!" Having such an eagle eye, I immediately recognized the Matterhorn and stopped writing the column I was working on for this late-breaking news alert:


Yeah, that's basically it. Apparently she was sick enough to go to the hospital, but the doctor immediately said it wasn't due to the ride - the woman was sixty-two, fer gawdsakes - and Disney reopened the Matterhorn the following afternoon.

So what's the big deal? Well, a boy died on Mission: Space recently, and there's nothing the media likes more than jumping on a bandwagon. (Apparently there aren't any new breaks in the current missing-white-girl case in Aruba and no new missing-white-girl cases to take up the slack.) Really, the only big deal I could find was that Disney closed the ride for about 22 hours because of a sickness.

While many people inside the parks were undoubtedly ticked off at the ride being closed, if someone is carted off to the hospital then that ride SHOULD be shut down until everyone is certain the ride is not the cause. While I would like to give kudos to Disneyland, they only shut down the ride because of Cal-OSHA regulations. In fact, the ride wasn't reopened until it was given the go-ahead by state safety inspectors.

Compare that to Mission: Space in Epcot. The ride closed there too, but only because the poor kid was rigid and unconscious when the ride ended. Yet that ride has caused multiple hospital visits and I don't recall the ride shutting down for any of them. So kudos to California!

Which, of course, will get some of the red-staters whining, "Too much government!!! The California government shouldn't be getting involved in the public's affairs... unless it involves Unions or homosexuals, of course!!!!" Or something like that, depending on their states. But those so-called Less-Governmenters should remember that Disneyland was one of the focuses of Al-Qaeda, and a person suddenly becoming uncharacteristically ill on a ride might not have anything to do with the ride itself. Remember the many anthrax scares at Disneyland a few years back? What would have happened had someone secretly dumped some biological agent on the Matterhorn while riding it, someone after that came off the ride extremely ill, and Disney ignored it and cycled thousands more people through the mountain? Disneyland would have become a ghost town overnight. (Of course, a real anthrax scare would probably raise attendance at DCA, since there'd finally be something to do there! HA!) We all need to remember that those bag-check stations out front aren't there just to irritate us.

Still, was this newsworthy? Especially the night AFTER it happened? Hells no! Not that Disney hasn't deserved a media feeding frenzy in the past (cough, Big Thunder, cough), but this is a bit ridiculous. If someone had died on a ride - even a 90-year-old with a baboon heart and a faulty pacemaker - then it would've been understandable. But really, this is little different than if the ride had gone down due to mechanical problems. I don't recall the media all over the up-and-down first year of California Screamin' over at DCA. Even extremely problematic Disney rides, like Test Track, got little press outside specialty sites like ours. Luckily for Disney some white woman hasn't run away from her scheduled wedding at the Walt Disney World Wedding Chapel! Then all hell would break loose!

Still, a question remains: Is Disney posting proper warnings on their attractions? I don't know what the signage outside the ride says, but it is probably similar to this, which can be found on the Matterhorn page of the official Disneyland website: "Guests should be in good health, and free from heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride." Is this enough? Considering how many older people seem to be having problems on certain Disney rides, including the two most recent media darlings, maybe Disney needs to look into adding senior citizenism onto its list - though nicely. The woman was Peruvian, though, and maybe she didn't read English. Does the park offer Spanish guidemaps with Spanish warnings on them? Because certainly we don't need to see signage with a dozen different languages on them. If not, they should look into doing so, with as many languages as possible.

Why should Disney have to do this? Disney DOESN'T. It's as simple as that. But Disney is the most visible theme park company out there, and this kind of scrutiny is what comes with being Number One. As Tom Cruise - along with his fake fiancee and his fake religion - well knows, sometimes media attention ISN'T that beneficial. And Disney definitely has a perception problem, one that has been festering for about a decade now. Many people, ESPECIALLY older people, still equate Disney with kiddie stuff. Yeah, you can plainly see the Matterhorn isn't kiddie stuff, but there is still that perception out there that Disney doesn't create scary or thrilling attractions, especially considering most of these types of attractions are not as visible to the guests as the Matterhorn. Attractions like Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, Alien Encounter, It's Tough to Be a Bug, Test Track, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Mission: Space, and so on. In fact, only a portion of Splash Mountain's final drop is visible to passersby. It's becoming clearer that Disney needs to do as much as they can to prevent these problems from happening without hurting the experience for everybody.

That's my two pennies... gimme yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Adriel Tjokrosaputro on June 29, 2005 at 8:07 AM
Did you know that Matterhorn in Disneyland is 46 years old?
From Derek Potter on June 29, 2005 at 6:56 PM
Sounds like bandwagon news bullcrap to me. You know the deal..If it bleeds, it leads, especially if it's coming off of a larger story. Whether or not the story has any relevance whatsoever to the larger story makes no difference. Sometimes the media, particularly the nightly news, really gets on my nerves. They feed America's fear by spinning a weak story off of a real tragedy. All they seem to report is bad news, most of it being sensationalist BS.

It's the same way here in Ohio. If some guy trips over a banana peel at Cedar Point, you have the locals, Cleveland, and Toledo all over the story. Same goes for Kings Island, although most news coming out of there is usually good...(except for the report about a 16 year old employee who somehow was able to get a .22 pistol inside the park on June 25) I suppose it's that way everywhere with parks and local news. Disney being the size it is, I'm sure it's a pretty large lightning rod for the media. How many people get sick on amusement rides everyday anyway. I've sure seen my share of puke piles and heat exhaustion...without ride closure, and without some reporter sticking his nose in.

From Robert OGrosky on June 29, 2005 at 7:01 PM
Big time over-reaction by the news media and government!!!!!!!! And no kudo's at all to big brother government of CA!!
So i guess the next time i go on a ride and dont take my medication like this lady did or get sick because i ate wrong then the ride should be shutdown for everyone..
So i guess if i get in accident on the free way then government better shut it down for hours after every accident to safeguard the public, that is what we would do under kevins illogic.
And if i get sick at ANY business we had better also shut it down immediately for the public good(and probably quarrentine everyone for our own good till we know all is ok).
It is one thing when a ride has a malfunction like on Big Thunder but it its going way overboard when a ride is shutdown and there is no evidence at all of any ride safety systems breaking down, and i applaud wdw for re-opening Mission Space once THEY and not governemnt determined the ride was operating properly.
From Chuck Campbell on June 29, 2005 at 7:18 PM
Gee, if they have to have an inspection and shutdown everytime somebody pukes on a ride, then the Mad Hatter's Tea Party is the most dangerous ride in Disneyland. They might as well shut it down now.

I doubt that more warning signs, or even better ones, are the answer, mainly because people rarely read the things anyway. That being said, I think an age limit for something like Mission: Space is in order, at least when it comes to kids.

From Kevin Baxter on June 29, 2005 at 11:01 PM
And, unsurprisingly, Robert completely ignores my example in his predictable big government rant. What if this had been ride-related and Disney went and hurt more people? They aren't shutting down rides unless hospital visits are involved. A hospital visit is pretty severe, isn't it? And the ride was down less than a day. A small price to pay to make sure something like terrorism wasn't involved. Which was probably why BOTH sides were closed, since both sides are considered different rides. Ya think of that Mr Knee-Jerk?
From Bryan Fear on December 21, 2005 at 4:26 PM
I always loved your rants and this one is no exception. I'd have to agree on the sensationalized TV news stories. They build it up to be something major during the end-of-segment just before the commercial break and then you come back and find out that it's a minor and overblown reality when it's finally reported in full. BTW, I'd still back Robert on the disdain for too much government. Keep up the good work and thanks for calling a BS story when you hear it.

As for terrorist targets? Yeah, sure Disney would be a major target but only for a suicide bomber. There's so many cameras in there that I doubt anyone could get in and out WITHOUT being filmed. ( I know Disney security peeps, I hear things, I ain't sayin' anything further ) I'm sure a suicide bomber doesn't care about being caught but all others probably would. Leaving some traceability would lead authorities to the rest of your terrorist cell and that spells the end for them. Knowing this, why wouldn't terrorists just sim for an area of high traffic and low security? ( ie - any other public place that is NOT Disneyland. )

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