It’s not unusual to be a fan of rollercoasters – and you can find them pretty much everywhere. Cities usually have huge amusement parks, and rides can often be found in fairs in every corner of the globe. Up, down, left, right, under, over … it’s great fun for children and adults alike. Until it goes wrong, that is.
Unfortunately, there are many people that have learned the hard way that rollercoasters aren’t always safe. In fact, some of them are outright dangerous – and there have been a number of horrific accidents that have made headlines around the world.
On September 5, 2003, a single train car filled packed full of unsuspecting riders broke free from a locomotive in a tunnel on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster in Disneyland. After it derailed, a number of people were trapped in the tunnel.
Tragically, a 22-year-old man died, and 10 other riders, with ages ranging from 9 to 47, were injured. The most serious injury consisted of broken ribs, chest injuries, and facial cuts. It took over an hour to remove them from the car; eight riders were rushed straight to the hospital, while two had to be treated at the scene.
In June 2016, five gondolas on the M&D Tsunami rollercoaster at a theme park in Lanarkshire detached from their rails at a bend, causing the rollercoaster to derail and crash. The day before, it had been closed due to a minor electrical fault, but it was fully operational on the day of the crash.
A total of ten people were taken to the hospital. Two young boys had critical, life-threatening injuries, and there were six others with serious injuries and two with minor injuries. After the accident, Tsunami was shut down.
On 23 August 1999, Joshua Smurphat, a 12-year-old boy from Sunnyvale, fell from the Drop Zone “free-fall” tower at Paramount’s Great American in Santa Clara. Shockingly, he slipped out of the steel safety harness and fell 207 feet to his death.
Although Joshua had severe physical and mental disabilities, none of these disqualified him as a rider. The harness had been correctly locked before the ride started, and it was still securely locked when it came back to the ground. It was the first time that anyone had been seriously injured on this ride.
An 11-year-old girl from Nebraska named Elizabeth was on a carnival ride called King’s Crown in 2016 when things took a turn for the worse. As the ride spun quickly, Elizabeth was tossed from her seat onto the floor. Her hair got caught in the ride’s spinning mechanism, which consequently ripped it from her head and fractured her skull.
The operator immediately rushed to get help, but no-one stopped the machine for 5 to 10 minutes. Elizabeth had to have surgery on her head twice, eye surgery, three skin grafts, and twenty-eight blood transfusions. Since her vision is improving and her hair has grown back on one side.
On 30 August 1999, two people – a 39-year-old woman and her 8-year-old daughter – were killed as they waited for the Wild Wonder rollercoaster to begin. As their cart started, it suddenly reversed and smashed into the car behind them.
As the cart sped backward, they were both hurled onto the ocean boardwalk of the New Jersey shore. As well as the mother and daughter, two other people were also injured. The ride, which had just opened a month earlier, had to be shut down.
Wildcat, a rollercoaster at Bell’s Amusement Park, was making its way to the top of the tracks when, just before reaching the tipping point, it slid backward a total of 45 feet and collided with another car that was also slowly at the time.
The impact immediately killed a 14-year-old boy sitting in the front of the cart – he was thrown out and hit his head on a metal bar. Six other riders were taken to hospital due to their injuries. Two were in critical condition.
It was 14 June 2018 when the Sand Blaster rollercoaster at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk in Florida derailed due to a combination of operator error and excessive speed. Before the accident, the ride had been closed for a month due to a failed inspection and had been open for just a few hours.
The front cart went off the tracks completely and was left dangling. Two riders fell and sustained serious injuries. Out of the 10 riders that had to be rescued by the emergency services, six were taken to the hospital.
In 2016, a three-year-old boy fell off the Rollo Coaster at the Idlewild and Soakzone Amusement Park in Pennsylvania. They did not have seatbelts; instead, using just a lap bar to secure the riders. On the final turn, the boy was ejected and fell twelve feet, landing on the tracks. Luckily, the boy was conscious, and after being treated at the scene, he airlifted to the hospital, where his condition was pronounced critical.
For the ride to be opened again, the amusement park had to jump through hoops. It was required to install seat belts, re-evaluate the rider height requirements, obtain written verification from a professional engineer that the coaster is safe, and provide authorities with a detailed description of changes to operator training requirements to reduce the risk of another accident.
In 2007, the Superman Tower of Power at Six Flags amusement park in Louisville, Kentucky, malfunctioned, seriously injuring a 16-year-old girl. The ride drops passengers 154 feet at 54 mph, but a cable snapped, wrapping around the girl’s feet and severing them at her ankles.
An unidentified witness reported: “The people on the ride just came and hit the ground. When I got up there, the lady was sitting there, and she didn’t have any legs. She was just there, calm, probably in shock from everything.”
In June 2001, three of the carts on the Treetop Twister at Lightwater Valley amusement park were stopped abruptly by the ride’s computer system. Gemma Savage, 20, was fatally injured in the accident when her cart was released, hitting the one in front before rolling backward and forwards continually in a dip in the track.
It wasn’t over there, however. The cart then collided with a third car at top speed. Gemma suffered serious head and spinal injuries and tragically died after being taken to hospital. Since that fateful day, a six-year-old has fallen from this ride, ending up in a critical condition.
The Fire in The Hole rollercoaster, which can be found at Silver Dollar City in Missouri, is responsible for the only fatality at the amusement park since it opened back in 1960. On 9 July 1980, 23-year-old James Frederick Polley went on the ride – and it was to be the last thing he’d ever do.
The operators thought that the train was empty and switched it from the main tracks onto a maintenance track that had a low-hanging door. The workers, seeing that there were riders still sitting in the carts, shouted for them to duck, but Polley failed to react. His head smashed against the door, and he died instantly. The accident was ruled as a human error, and the ride was kept running.
On 30 May 1972, a train being hoisted up to the start of the Big Dipper rollercoaster in Battersea Park, London, broke loose from its rope. The rollback brake failed, and the train began to roll back towards the station, gathering speed as it traveled. The back cart came off the rails and crashed through a barrier, with the other two carts coming down on top of it.
A total of five children were killed (an 8-year-old girl and two teenage boys died immediately, and another two died later in hospital), with a total of 13 others who were injured. After the accident, the ride was closed and dismantled, and in 1974, the rest of the fair was closed.
On 29 June 2010, on the Space Journey Ride at China’s Ecoventure Valley Theme Park, 6 people were killed and 10 others injured when the ride collapsed and trapped them. Many witnesses to the accident claimed that they could smell something burning, and they thought the power was cut.
When the rescuers were able to get inside, most of the trapped riders were either dead or unconscious. Space Journey had only been open to the public for just over a year when it happened, and it’s thought that what really happened that day was covered up.
A deadly fire broke out in the Haunted Castle at Six Flags in New Jersey on 12 May 1984, killing 8 teenagers out of a total of 29 people. Unfortunately, the fire, which began at around 6:30 pm, was fanned by the building’s air conditioning.
Incredibly, the Haunted Castle lacked a building permit, an occupancy certificate, fire and smoke detectors, and sprinklers. Seven of the survivors were taken to the hospital treated for smoke inhalation. A witness later claimed that a 14-year-old boy accidentally started the fire by using a cigarette lighter to find his way.
On 2 June 2015, at Alton Towers amusement park in Staffordshire in the UK, there was a serious accident on the Smiler rollercoaster – the world’s first Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster. A loaded train of passengers collided with an empty test train, causing critical injuries to some of the riders.
Two riders from the front row had leg amputations. But although 6 other riders required medical treatment, thankfully, their injuries were not serious. The ride reopened in March of 2016 with additional safety features.
The Fujin Raijin, located in Japan, is a stand-up rollercoaster. On 5 May 2007, an axle broke, causing it to derail. This killed one person, a 19-year-old student who was fatally thrown against a handrail and injured a total of 19 others.
The subsequent investigation found that the axles had not been replaced for a staggering 15 years – and, a month later, similar axle cracks were discovered on a second train. On 9 February 2009, the whole amusement park was permanently closed.
The fourth cart of the Mindbender rollercoaster, located at Galaxyland Amusement Park in Alberta, Canada, derailed on 14 June 1986. The wheel assembly had become detached, causing the cart to sway back and forth across the tracks. The lap bar restraints unlocked and released, causing all four of the passengers to be thrown to the concrete floor below.
The train continued moving, but unable to clear the final loop, it rolled backward and crashed into a concrete pillar. Three riders died, and the fourth was in a critical condition, with permanent, life-changing injuries. The remaining passengers were treated for minor injuries. In 1987, Mindbender was redesigned and reopened.
In April 2004, at Oakwood Theme Park in Pembrokeshire, Wales, a 16-year-old girl was killed after falling from the Hydro ride. Hayley Williams fell a shocking 100 feet after operators failed to check her lap bar before the boat left the dock. As the boat passed over the top of the ride – an area with an 85-degree descent – Hayley slipped out and fell.
She was pulled from the water below but pronounced dead, having suffered fatal internal injuries and breakages. Hayley’s friend Elizabeth Humphries, who was sitting next to Hayley on the ride, said: “I thought it was a poncho at first; then, I realized the seat was empty, and I just started screaming.”
In September 2000, four-year-old Brandon fell from the Rabbit Cartoon Spin in Disneyland, became trapped under another car, and was dragged along for 10 feet. He suffered serious internal injuries, such as a torn liver, spleen, and diaphragm. He also tragically went into cardiac arrest, suffering permanent brain damage as a result.
After the accident, the boy was in a drug-induced coma for more than a month. Afterward, he was unable to walk or talk. Eight years later, Brandon sadly succumbed to his injuries and died. Disneyland changed the ride in order to make it safer, as well as hiring on-site paramedics in case of emergency.
On 25 October 2016, the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld Theme Park on the Gold Coast, Australia, malfunctioned. The ride’s water level suddenly dropped significantly, causing a raft with six people inside to become stranded on support rails near the end of the conveyor. Roughly a minute later, another raft – again, holding six people – collided with it.
Both rafts pivoted upward, with the first falling back to a level position and the second ending up vertical. The riders subsequently fell out and became trapped close to the conveyor mechanism, which led to four fatalities. The other two passengers, who were children, were luckily able to climb out to safety. The park was shut for almost two months, and the ride was closed down for good.
There was a structural failure on the Son of Beast – a wooden roller coaster at King’s Island amusement park in Mason, Ohio – on 9 July 2006 that caused a slight dip in the track. Unfortunately, this meant that when the train went over, it jolted – badly enough to mean 27 people had to go to the hospital for head and neck injuries.
The ride was shut down but opened again in 2007. However, on 16 June 2009, a woman suffered a burst a blood vessel in her brain while riding and ended up in intensive care. Consequently, the rollercoaster was shut for good.
On 19 July 2013, while riding the New Texas Giant in a Six Flags amusement park, a 52-year-old woman fell 75 feet to her death. According to eyewitnesses, the woman, who was overweight, became worried because other riders’ safety restraints clicked into place three times, but hers only clicked once.
As the coaster rounded a turn, she was thrown from the cart. She was later found on the metal roof of one of the ride’s tunnels. As a result, seat belts were installed in all the rides in the Six Flags chain as a precaution.
On 9 June 1979, a fire ripped through the Sydney Ghost Train at Luna Park. It completely destroyed the train and killed a total of one adult and six children. Inadequate fire-fighting and low staffing were deemed to be the reason for the severity of the accident.
Investigators speculated that the children had climbed out of their cars in an effort to find their way out. After shutting due to the fire, the park reopened in 1982 under a new name and new owners.
On 7 August 2016, ten-year-old Caleb Schwab – state representative Scott Schwab’s son – died while riding the Verruckt Water Slide. During the ascent of one of the hills, the raft he was riding went airborne and hit the metal structure, thereby internally decapitating Caleb.
Two women who were also in the raft suffered severe facial injuries. It was determined that Caleb, who weighed just 74 pounds, was in the front of the raft, while the women behind him, weighing 275 and 197 pounds, led to uneven weight distribution. The ride was shut for good in 2018, and the park didn’t operate the following season.
Tin 2007, 21-year-old Gabriela Garin was thrown from her car and killed as she rode the Mind Scrambler ride. She worked at the park and had switched with a colleague so she could go on the ride.
Tragically, Gabriela had been working in 2004 when a 7-year-old girl was killed on the Mind Scrambler. Then, in 2005, a 7-year-old boy was also killed at the same park when he climbed out of his boat on another ride.
In 1991, 32-year-old Candy Tayloe fell from the Flight Commander ride and was killed just before the park closed that night. Unbelievably, two men had been killed earlier that very same day in a pond, with another man injured.
One of the men was a park employee trying to rescue someone when they were both fatally electrocuted. Their names were William Haithcoat and Darrell Robertson – both aged just 20. The park opened the next day again, but the two areas were closed.
In 2016, three girls aged 6, 10, and 16 fell three stories from a Ferris Wheel at the Tennessee County Fair when their basket overturned due to a mechanical failure. The gondola had tipped about 90 degrees.
Two of the girls were seriously injured, and the board canceled its contract with the company that provided the rides. Consequently, no rides were operational during the last two days of the fair.
In 2005, Stephen Gray, aged just 18, died on the Ladybug Coaster at the Farmingdale Adventure Amusement Park after being crushed. He worked at the park and was manning the ride at the time.
Somehow, Stephen was run over after ending up face down on the tracks. He was pinned down and totally unable to free himself. The car was lifted off him after approximately 10 minutes, and he was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately, he died from serious internal injuries.
On Coney Island back in 199, 17-year-old Nadine Caban was killed, and eight others were injured on the Himalaya ride after it malfunctioned. The girl was thrown from her seat and pinned between the tracks and one of the carts.
Unfortunately, Nadine was rushed to the hospital for treatment but died later the same day. Eight other people suffered injuries in the accident, although they were minor and, after being treated at the hospital, they were sent home fairly quickly.
The Discovery ride at Kankaria Theme Park in western Ahmedabad was an extremely popular pendulum-style ride – until it went wrong, that is. The main shaft pipe broke mid-swing, crashing to the ground and killing 2 people and injuring 29 others.
It fell approximately 30 feet, killing two people instantly. The father-son duo that owns the park failed to produce an answer on how the ride broke – it was only four years old, checked regularly, and maintained well.
Built all the way back in 1911, the Derby Racer rollercoaster was a wooden rollercoaster located in Massachusetts. There were twin tracks with two carts racing each other, and the tracks followed a figure-eight route.
In two separate accidents, men were thrown from their carts and died instantly on impact. It wasn’t that much surprise, in hindsight, considering the lack of safety features and procedures in amusement parks back in those days.
On 24 July 1930, the biggest rollercoaster accident up until that point happened at Krug Park. A bolt-on the Big Dipper came loose, and four cars full of children and teenagers plunged to the ground. Four people, who were aged 15, 34, 22, and 29, were killed, and 19 others were injured, three of which tragically found themselves in a critical condition.
The four riders that died had been pinned under the cart after it fell, thereby being crushed and suffocated. An ordinance banning rollercoasters in Omaha was passed as a direct result, and business consequently declined at the park. It officially closed a decade later, in 1940.
In 2008, at a Six Flags amusement park in Georgia, a 17-year-old was decapitated as a result of riding the Batman rollercoaster. Hi, the hat had fallen off during the ride so, afterward, he broke into a restricted area to retrieve it.
There were two 6-foot fences and multiple signs that prohibited entry and warned of danger, but he fatally chose to ignore them. The rollercoaster was going 50 mph when it hit him, and he died instantly. His friend, who had also entered the restricted area, managed to escape without any injuries. No one on the ride was injured, either.
In 1980, there was a fatal accident on the Willard’s Whizzer roller coaster at Marriott’s Great American Amusement Park in California. Two carts crashed, killing 13-year-old Kyle Foss and injuring eight other passengers and one member of staff.
Kyle was thrown from the cart and landed on the rocks below. Two others who were also thrown from the cart luckily landed relatively safely in a pool of water below. However, eyewitness reports are conflicting, with some claiming Kyle was hit by the train as he was getting on the ride.
In 2017, the Fire Ball ride at the Ohio State Fair malfunctioned, causing a fatality and multiple injuries. It broke apart as it was operational, throwing riders into the air. Tyler Jarrell, who was just 18, was killed immediately, and seven other riders were injured – three critically.
Unfortunately, when the operator hit the emergency stop button, more people were thrown roughly 20 to 30 feet into the air. All of the rides were closed after the accident, and a full investigation was ordered. Incredibly, the fair claimed the ride had been inspected that day and approved.
The Fabbri Booster, which is a pendulum ride located in Paris, malfunctioned back in 2007 when one of the gondolas rides came loose and fell to the ground. A father and son were tragically killed, and two other riders were seriously injured.
Two additional people were left stuck in the air for over two hours before being rescued by the emergency services! Luckily, they were not hurt – just very shaken up, which is understandable.
In 2017, Evha Jannath, who was just 11 years old, went on a school field trip to Drayton Manor in Tamworth, Staffordshire, that she would never return home from. She was unsupervised on the park’s Canyon ride and fell from the boat when it hit a barrier.
Unfortunately, Evha couldn’t swim. She was initially able to wade her way back toward her friends but then fell into much deeper water. Just 10 minutes later, she was found face down in the water and was officially pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
Back in 1978, three people were killed and another one injured at the Six Flags amusement park at Gondola Falls, Missouri. The Skyway gondola ride carrying four passengers 70 feet in the air somehow came off the cable and fell to the ground. Trisha Weeks (age 10), Kristen Johnson (age 15), and Clark Johnson (age 25) were all killed instantly.
A 12-year-old girl named Jennine Weeks was critically injured, and another 60 riders were left stranded in the 15 remaining cable cars. It took four hours to get all of them safely down again. After the accident, the ride was shut down.
In 1997, tragedy struck at Waterworld USA. Dozens of teenagers on a graduation outing jammed onto the slide, despite the lifeguards trying desperately to stop them. Under the weight, the water slide collapsed, causing utter devastation.
The seniors from Napa High School had been attempting to surpass the school record of how many people could fit on a water slide at the same time. They fell approximately 30 feet to the cement and dirt below, which killed one 17-year-old girl and injured 32 more; several were in a critical condition.
Siam Park, an enormous waterpark in Thailand, experienced tragedy back in 2007. There were six passengers on a flume ride where the boat ended up falling off from the very top, plummeting a total of 66 feet directly to the ground. One woman died, and five others were injured.
The accident was caused by a loss of power, which meant that the water pump responsible for keeping the boat failed to work. Following the accident, an investigation was undertaken, and it was decided that there should be proper operator guidelines, a rider age limit, and warning signs.
On 27 June 2015, there was a large fire explosion at Taiwan’s Formosa Fun Coast amusement park. During an outdoor color powder party, revelers were singing and dancing on stage, releasing corn starch powder. A large cloud of this powder ignited over a crowd of 1,000 people.
Some of the people in the crowd breathed in the powder, which caused them to suffer from respiratory problems. Moreover, a huge fireball suddenly engulfed the stage, resulting in a number of serious burns. There were 15 deaths and a staggering 496 injuries, with 11 of those critical.
Dino Yankov, who was aged just 19, tragically died at Middle Moor Water Park in Somerset in the UK. The Human Catapult ride did not need a license at the time, and, as a result, no independent safety checks had been carried out.
Dino was supposed to land on a net, but he landed just short of it, injuring himself badly. He was treated immediately at the scene before being airlifted to the nearest hospital, but unfortunately, he later died.
Back in 2001, 40-year-old Lori Mason-Larez fell 100 feet from the Perilous Plunge ride at Knotts Berry Farm. Although both her lap bar and seat belt were securely fastened, she died from extensive injuries after it went wrong.
According to the investigation that followed, a restraint failure led to Lori being thrown from the top of the ride. Afterward, they installed a four-point harness in the boat, but the ride was eventually closed for good in 2012.
In 2017, an accident at the Fort Fun Theme Park in Germany meant that a 12-year-old boy had to be rushed to the hospital. He had been riding a gravity-driven rollercoaster when his foot became trapped between the tracks and the cart he was sitting in.
The result was a severed leg – in the middle of the calf. The boy was airlifted to hospital, and Fort Fun was consequently shut down. As there had previously been other accidents on the ride, it was closed pending further investigation.
In 2011, after riding the Tower of Terror at Disneyland in Paris, a 12-year-old boy named Bautista Riera was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spine and bone contusion.
After the ride finished, he told his uncle he didn’t feel well, but he couldn’t explain why. Then, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He went into respiratory arrest and became paralyzed, with doctors warning that it could be permanent.
In 2019, two people died due to the Chimera rollercoaster, which is located in the Feria de Chapultepec in Mexico City. The train jumped the track, and the carriage went straight into a metal structure, causing the riders to fall.
The two men killed were aged just 18 and 21, and two women were severely injured. The following investigation stated that a mechanical failure had caused the car to come loose, and it was ruled as a case of negligent homicide.
In 2007, a 7-year-old boy and his mother both fell from the Sizzler ride in Arkansas. As they fell, the boy hit his head by the ride and his mother on her back. They were both immediately taken to hospital, where the mother recovered but the boy died.
Eyewitness Dewayne Mathis said: “The little boy was going to get up or something because the door came open and he was moving around, and he got up, and it slung them back. His mama tried to drag him back in, and this told me to shut down the machine, and, when I shut it down, both of them flew out.”
In Taitaishan Theme Park, Shanxi, China, 13 people were tragically killed in a fire that spread quickly through an exhibition hall, engulfing everything inside it. Fifteen other people were critically injured and taken to the hospital.
The whole of north China’s Shanxi Province was ordered to close after the fire. Officials stated that safety checks were completed three days prior, but this has been debated. In a twist of fate, it happened on the first day of China’s eight-day national holiday.
Five family members fell 65 feet from a Ferris Wheel at the World Carnival in South Korea when their cart unexpectedly overturned. A 68-year-old woman, a 7-year-old boy, a 28-year-old woman, and two others died.
Meanwhile, two other people had been able to cling onto handholds, thereby avoiding injury. The investigation, which was launched immediately afterward, is still ongoing, with no real clear indication of the outcome.