Theme parks are designed to scare and thrill. With dizzying heights and enormous speed, it’s easy to understand why many of us avoid them by choice. Although they are often completely safe, on rare occasions these rides result in tragic, catastrophic accidents. There are an average of 4.5 amusement park deaths per year in the US alone.
The Smiler at Alton Towers, Staffordshire, UK
The Smiler is well known internationally among roller coaster fanatics as it holds the record for the most inversions. After opening in 2013, it became incredibly popular with a large amount of TV advertisements. Two years later, in June 2015, The Smiler crashed leaving five people seriously injured.
A carriage carrying 16 riders, crashed into an empty one that had become stuck on another section of the ride. Those sitting on the front row were the most seriously injured with two of them requiring leg amputations. It took over four hours for the rescue crews to fully evacuate the ride.
The Smiler has had several incidents since it was unveiled yet still remains operational.
Quimera, La Fiera, Mexico City
In September 2019, a carriage on the popular roller coaster Quimera derailed. In the middle of the filled theme park, two young men were ejected from the rear carriage as it derailed and flipped. They fell 33ft and died of the resulting head injuries.
Two women were injured as the flailing rear carriage caused them head injuries. The park closed following the accident and it remains unclear if La Fiera will reopen.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disneyland, California
In September 2003, a 22 year old man was killed at Disneyland when the Big Thunder Mountain ride derailed. The derailment happened inside a dark, tunnel section of the ride. The open-top passenger carriages derailed causing the locomotive at the front of the ride to lift up and fall backwards, crushing the man in the first carriage.
Several other passengers suffered minor to moderate injuries.
The cause of the accident was improper maintenance of the ride, with multiple bolts not being fastened tightly enough.
Big Dipper, Krug Park, Omaha, Nebraska
On July 24th 1930, America’s deadliest amusement park accident took place. A mechanical failure caused a derailment of the Big Dipper which was carrying many young people. The train broke through a guard rail, falling 35 feet before crashing into the ground below. In a further horrible twist to the story, the coaster’s lift chain continued to run, allowing three more cars to follow the crashed one along the track. Many people became trapped underneath the train resulting in 4 deaths and 19 injured.
Texas Giant, Six Flags over Texas, Arlington
Rosa Ayala-Goana fell 75 feet to her death in July 2013 when her seat restraint came loose and ejected her from the ride. She had disappeared from the ride in front of her distressed son sitting next to her. When the ride stopped, her son was seen trying to get the attention of staff members who seemed unaware that an accident had happened.
After Six Flags investigated, they updated all seat restraints on the Texas Giant, although they stand firm in their opinion that the accident was not caused by a mechanical failure.
It is believed that 52 year old Rosa may have been too large for the seat restraint to work correctly.
The Ultimate, Lightwater Valley Theme Park, England
In June 1994, roller coaster The Ultimate hit a deer that had stumbled onto the tracks. With a maximum speed of 50mph, the deer was decapitated and the passengers were showered in blood. A 12 year old was treated in hospital for injuries caused in the accident.
Remarkably, twenty years later in September 2014, The Ultimate hit another deer, on this occasion no passengers were injured.
Park officials claim that although the park is fenced off, deer occasionally make it onto the grounds.
Ghost Train, Tramore Amusement Park, Ireland
22 year old Gavin Mason died in August 2006 as he celebrated his birthday with friends. As part of a prank, he got out of the ghost train carriage in an attempt to scare friends who were also on the ride. Unfortunately, he slipped and was hit by another train which broke his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.