Here's what really happened this week on Space Mountain

January 31, 2019, 1:35 PM · No, no one fell out of the roller coaster cars on Disneyland's Space Mountain on Tuesday, contrary to wild rumors that have been flying around social media this week. But someone did manage to get off the ride on a lift hill, prompting Disney and California state officials to close the ride for inspections.

Brady MacDonald at the Orange County Register got to the bottom of the story — which happens to be something that occurs more often than you might think at Disney and other major theme parks. An unidentified man climbed out his rocket on Space Mountain as the coaster car was climbing its first lift hill, just after the loading station. (The lift hill has a staircase located immediately to its side, for use in evacuations.) Ride operators saw the man, immediately shut down the ride, then escorted him to first aid to be checked.

The man, who happens to have a cognitive disability, according to the Register reports, was not injured. Disney called in CalOSHA to inspect the ride, which was still down this morning. Initial reports say that nothing failed on the ride. The man simply found a way to climb out from the lap bar that serves as the safety restraint on the indoor roller coaster.

Now, of course, one might argue that if someone managed to get out from a safety restraint, that was itself a failure. But safety restraints are designed to hold people in their seats during the normal motion of a ride. They are not necessarily designed to hold people in those seats against their will. They will keep lateral or G forces from ejecting you, but they won't always restrain someone who is determined to get out.

That is why major thrill rides have cameras and emergency stop systems. If a ride operator who is watching the monitors sees someone exiting, or even trying to exit, a ride on track, he or she is trained to immediately hit the e-stop and send other operators to that person. When I worked the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, I hit an e-stop in at least three incidents. All were for in-station situations, and none involved people climbing out of the train on a lift, but I did work with people who had dealt with that.

Preventing these types of incidents is why operators will not dispatch a train with a crying child, by the way. You don't want to assume any risk that the child will panic even more when the train starts moving, then try to climb out. It's better to ask a parent and child to step aside than to have to e-stop a ride, which means a downtime of at least several minutes, if not an lengthy evacuation.

It's unfortunate when a person feels so uncomfortable that he or she would try to exit a moving thrill ride, but when that does happen, parks have systems to ensure that those guests remain safe. It appears that Disney's system for doing that worked in this incident on Space Mountain. No one was injured, after all. No one fell out of the ride.

But this incident should provide a couple reminders: First, there's no harm at all in skipping a ride where you feel — or any member of your family or group feels — anything less than comfortable about committing to ride. There's plenty else to do in most any park. Never judge someone for not riding.

And second, don't always believe what you read on social media.

Replies (2)

February 1, 2019 at 12:31 AM

Years ago (!)I remember riders getting out of the cars in Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and running alongside.

February 1, 2019 at 4:42 PM

I’m glad Disney’s safety protocols worked, but I do hate when people spread and fuel rumors as if they are fact.

Although - I must shamefully admit that as a teenager, I would get out of my ride vehicle on Adventure Thru Inner Space and then join my friends in other vehicles...and was never caught.

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