July 2021 Monthly Ride Report Recap

As amusement attraction attendance increases the number of people exposed to rides, we expect the number of media reports to increase. The monthly recap will be updated periodically through the month, until the recaps resume weekly posts.

Date of last update: 22 November 2021.

On 3 July 2021, a raft on the Raging River (river raft) attraction overturned at Adventureland (Iowa, US) injuring four of six occupants, one of whom subsequently died. Early media coverage commented on the ride having passed a state inspection the previous day, the distance of the ride from the nearest emergency vehicle parking, and a previous fatal but completely unrelated employee injury at the load/unload turntable which had attracted OSHA fines.
After three days, the media has not reported where on the path of the ride this occurred. This would be important information, as an overturned raft fatally injured four people on a similar attraction at Dreamworld (Australia) in 2016. In the Australian accident, low water levels had caused the raft to flip at the base of a lift conveyor. Monitoring and adjusting water level is an operational practice; an inspection is a “snapshot” at a point in time, and cannot verify that operational practices will never fluctuate.
Related to the current case, in a report on a family interview, ABC News reported “As they buckled their seatbelts and embarked on the river rapids ride, their tube suddenly flipped over, leaving them all trapped underwater.” It is unclear if the implicit chronology should be taken literally, as the seatbelts should be buckled before the raft is dispatched.
Reporting after five days mentions that part of the inflated bladder of the overturned raft was found deflated. No comment was made about whether this occurred before or during the event. After 12 days, it was reported that the raft had been removed for examination. After 16 days, it was reported that the raft’s flotation bladder had been repaired to correct a deflation and returned hours before the occurrence. Investigators were cited as finding that the raft had dipped under water level and touched and scraped the bottom of the water channel prior to overturning. This suggests but does not prove that the deflation preceded the overturning, rather than resulting from it. In this type of ride, piping is placed along the bottom of the rapids water channel to create the “rushing rapids” effect. Floatation of the rafts and adequate water level in the channel are used to ensure no contact between the rafts and protruding water jets.
[This post will be updated as additional information is reported.] Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link

On “the weekend” of 3 / 4 July 2021, a rider reportedly sustained a concussion and facial injuries on a Dragon Wagon (a common model of family roller coaster) at the Freedom Festival (West Virginia, US) operated by Gambill Amusements. The injured rider’s mother reported that the ride “jolted” causing the rider’s upper body to flail and impact within the vehicle. Video in the news report appears to show a wheel assembly derailing, and the train abruptly halting. The report cites witnesses saying the ride was reopened within the hour after an inspection by a “certified inspector”. The family is quoted as saying that the ride was alternately operated and “tightened up” the previous day, and had experienced breakdowns at previous fairs. The operator is quoted citing their safety record endorsement from OABA, the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, a trade organization of mobile ride operators. Link

A malfunction of the automatic chlorinator at a waterpark at the Westgate Resort in Gatlinburg (Tennessee, US) on 6 July 2021 resulted in excess chlorine release, which caused respiratory irritation for multiple guests, including four who were sent to hospital. Link

On 6 July 2021, a teenage female rider on a slingshot attraction collided with a seagull, sustaining an impact to the face (with no reported injury). Because slingshot experiences often have onride video, a close-up record of the occurrence is available. This joins a small collection of ride accidents and close calls involving animals in the ride path. Link | Link

On 14 July 2021, a young boy sustained a head injury on The Joker at Six Flags Great Adventure (NJ, US). He was described as being bandaged and transported to hospital. No source of injury was identified. The ride was described as having no defects. This suggests a head impact within the ride vehicle due to ride forces, but reported interviews do not touch on this issue. Link The same report did, however, recap previous occurrences, including a lap bar that reportedly opened on the Nitro ride three days earlier (no injury, no defect detected), a derailment of wheels of the last car of El Toro coaster in June (no injury, evacuation, listed in the “stalled” section below, and an update to the Saw Mill log flume recapped in June.

On 10 July 2021, a rider’s foot became stuck between the ride vehicle and the loading platform, at Full Throttle at Six Flags Magic Mountain (California, US). The patron was aided by emergency responders and treated in hospital. It has been recorded as an entanglement with the ride. The original story was updated to add a TikTok clip of the patron’s legs while in the stuck position. The original report was originally unclear, as it described a person “stuck in the tracks” and unknown whether the injured was a patron or employee, implying potential trespassing or walking within the ride enclosure. There was no entanglement with the tracks at all, in the updated story. Link

In an event reported as occurring “on Friday”, which is interpreted as 16 July 2021, a family riding Lost River Ride, a log flume ride, at Flamingo Land (UK) slid backwards down the lift hill, in an apparent failure of anti-rollback mechanisms. The patrons stated they were securely restrained in the log flume boat which swamped upon reaching the bottom of descent. Although no injuries were reported, the guests were alarmed by the malfunction, expressed dissatisfaction with response time, and interpreted the duration of closure as allowing insufficient investigation. Link

A chemical leak at one attraction affected 68 people at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Splashtown, in Texas (US) on 17 July 2021, with reported minor skin irritation and respiratory issues, involving one particular unidentified attraction. CNN reports the chemical mixture was “30-35% sulfuric acid and 10-13% bleach”. At least 34 people underwent decontamination procedures, and 26 or 29 (depending on source) were taken to hospital. Another report stated “more than 100” were decontaminated onsite, and indicated the likely attraction was a kiddie pool. This would be consistent with the number of very young children among those who were seriously ill. Three days later, the park released a statement indicating the (unspecified) cause was found and remedial measures being implemented. A subsequent report identified the area of the occurrence as Splashtown, the kiddie area. The operator subsequently identified improper installation of a part by a contractor as the cause. Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link

On 17 July 2021, a horizontally revolving ride themed as “Sombrinha” (video resembles a Paratrooper) in Brazil ejected two riders when a fastener reportedly failed (classified as a ride malfunction). The video shows the rider on the platform below the operating ride, and the seat striking the fence around the platform. The report is typical of those that do not differentiate fixed-site and mobile rides, referring to them all as amusement parks (or “parque de diversoes”); this occurrence has been recorded as a mobile ride, as no park name is given and the video most resembles a mobile setup. Link

18 July 2021, a vertically revolving ride themed as Lumberjack at Canada’s Wonderland paused while the seating gondolas were in the top, inverted position. Patrons on social media reported scratches and discomfort, while the park advised conventional media that no injuries occurred. This occurrence has been logged, and recorded with severity level of “comfort on site”, and unspecified number of patrons affected. Link

On 20 July 2021, a 14-year-old girl patron was found submerged in water at Aqua Adventures Waterpark, part of Land of Illusion Adventure Park (Ohio, US). Reports indicated she had been underwater for 30 minutes, and died at hospital. Later reports indicate that the patron had been using a “jumping device” (likely a floating inflatable) prior to the fatal submersion, and had not been wearing a flotation device. The local fire chief described the waterpark as “a pond”, not clear water like a swimming pool, impeding the location of submerged patrons. Media follow-ups revealed public complaints in recent days about overcrowding, and lack of supervision. The general manager subsequently released a statement that the guest had not been on the inflatable devices at the time, but providing little more information about what did occur. Local law enforcement commented about a number of safety deficiencies at the facility, none of which required the fatal drowning to expose. A third-party inspection before the drowning, rather than in response to it, should have found these. Correcting any of them could have had a material impact on the outcome of the case. The public is not always able to assess the safety of a facility, and some operators may not be able to overcome competing interests to resolve all safety issues. Third-party inspection acts on behalf of the public interest in this regard. Subsequent reporting noted that the site of the waterpark, on a natural body of water, rather than an artificial pool, qualified for a loophole exempting it from state oversight or obligation by state waterpark regulations. Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link

At Splash Kingdom Waterpark (Texas, US), lifeguards rescued a 3-year-old child from drowning. From the report, the submersion occurred in a lazy river pool area, on 23 July 2021. (Dates must sometimes be inferred from references to a weekday and the date of publication.) Link

24 July 2021, in Belfast at a Planet Fun funfair set set up at Carrickfergus Castle, a swing carousel “collapsed”, injuring 12 riders, of whom half were sent to hospital. The operator stated that the ride did not collapse, and that the regulator determined there were no mechanical defects to prevent reopening. Witnesses described that one seat “snapped” and caused “the swings to bash into each other throwing people into the signs and the other swings”. The operator blamed the behaviour of teens for the collapse. Swing carousels suspend seats on four chains attached to a revolving superstructure. The chains are obviously a potential point of failure – the English language even has an idiom about chains being only as strong as the weakest link. Chains are typically replaced on intervals, such as 25% of chains each year. While the findings of this investigation have not been reported, I recall as long ago as 2002 observing a ride inspection which focused on the potential for a chain to break. The occupant of the seat is unlikely to drop, because three other chains are unlikely to fail at the same time, but the lower portion of a broken chain would become a flailing whip as ride rotation continued – the higher the broken link in the chain, the wider the radius of the flail. This could match the witness description in this case. However, it is unclear how rider “behaviour” would be responsible for this failure. The operators were commended for quick reaction, which presumably was to stop the ride and lower the superstructure after the malfunction, and this may have been critical to prevent further harm. Speculating about typical “rider behaviour” associated with this ride, this might refer to attempting to hold hands with other riders, or push and pull against other riders, or to twist their own seat, thus straining the chains. If that were the case, the chain should not catastrophically fail when this occurs, although it may strain the chains. For that reason, the ride should be stopped when such behaviour is observed, and the guests penalized appropriately, such as being uninvited from the facility. This prompt operator response would be before the ride malfunction results, and not simply promptly after the chains break to prevent greater damage and harm. Operator monitoring is difficult, however. This type of ride being elevated some 40 feet in the air can be difficult for operators to continuously monitor, as it is postural fatiguing. In addition, at some times of day, it is also visually fatiguing to observe the riders against the bright sky. Link | Link | Link | Link

On 28 July 2021, a carnival set up by East Coast Amusements on the Halifax waterfront positioned a horizontally revolving ride “Star Trooper” too close to trees. On riding, two riders were struck repeatedly against the trees. Possible collision points are not always obvious when the ride is static. Rides could strike against other rides, passers-by, structures, and power lines if the full motion path of the ride is not considered. This is an accident pattern we see in the media from time to time. Every ride has setup instructions that identify the nearest distance of obstacles. The midway should be mapped out based on this information. Setup locations should be surveyed based on this plan, and the rides set up where marked, and not just “eyeballed” onsite. Link

Stalled or stopped rides

Occurrences of stalled or stopped rides are not logged in RRRR unless injury results, and not all will be recapped here. Rides are designed to stop in case of malfunction or potential collision, and evacuation procedures are prepared. Stalled and stopped rides and stranded and evacuated riders are alluring to reporters, likely because evacuated riders and bystanders are available to comment. In one year of media coverage, 25% of “ride accident” news reports covered these cases, and not true accidents. That said, any underlying malfunction or defect that will receive attention from the attraction operator may also be of interest to the public. A brief discussion here may provide background information useful to the reader to understand the difference between these cases and logged cases.

Public interest was attracted to the 29 June 2021 evacuation of El Toro roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure (New jersey, US), which is reported to have involved a misalignment of its wheels, with damage to the wheels and track. Link

A carnival ride malfunctioned on 8 July 2021 at the Michigan Cherry Festival (operated by Arnold’s Amusements.) The ride themed as “Magic Carpet” (also known as 1001 Nachts) moves like a giant propellor about 50 feet high, with a seating platform on one end, and a counterweight on the other. All the motion is in one plane: the platform remains level at all times, and the riders seated on the platform are elevated and lowered in the path of a circle, as the propeller revolves. The direction of swing reverses, and the swing includes partial and full rotation clockwise and counterclockwise around the centre of the propeller. The centre is supported on a pillar raised from the ride base and is intended to be in a fixed position about 25 feet above the loading platform. Video posted online showed the ride swaying forward and back as the platform and counterweight swing back and forth. Eyewitnesses describe the ride as going faster than typical, but this is not evident on the videos recorded, while it is clear that the centre of the propellor is not being held in a fixed position, as intended. An operator cut power to the ride, but this type of ride continues swinging with no power, until the momentum is expended. Whereas bystanders expressed a belief that those who massed along the loading platform fence prevented the ride from tipping over, they were in a dangerous position, hanging on a detachable fence. Carnival personnel stated that the ride came off the blocking (supporting wood structures needed in most mobile ride installations to bring non-level ground beneath the ride up to a level foundation for all points of support under the ride base). Of note, the ride was already trailered for shipping to the manufacturer the next morning; it is not clear whether state or third party inspectors had an opportunity to examine the adequacy of the mobile foundation (blocking) installation before the device was packed up. Subsequent reporting indicates the ride’s last inspection was 2019, prior to the COVID year of closures, and the state has not yet completed annual inspections of many of the state’s rides.
Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link | Link

A roller coaster cart stalled at Tivoli Park at Via Parque mall, in Barra da Tijuca mall in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) on 18 July 2021. Bystander interviews report the riders were stuck for 20 minutes and no one was injured, as is typical for stalled roller coasters. Brake zones on roller coasters are located in the tracks, and grab the passing carts, if needed, to keep distance between multiple carts on the track. If the preceding cart was moving too slowly to clear the block of track, it is required that the following cart be stopped at a brake zone before entering the same block. While some models of roller coaster have the ability to remotely release brakes and re-start a cart on the track with a kicker motor, other models have brakes that must be manually released with a long stick or even a mallet, from below. The images in the story depict the crew performing this process to manually release the brakes. This is an entirely familiar process that should well-rehearsed, as it is needed every time the automatic control system is tested. However, this doesn’t mean it is fast. It may be necessary to locate the crew members who know how to do it, obtain the tools, get the safety equipment needed to climb the track, and so forth. Link

A similar case was reported at Western Playland in New Mexico on 24 July 2021 on the “El Bandido” coaster. In this case, it reportedly took two hours to evacuate all eight riders in the stopped train, via bucket truck and ladder. Updates to the report indicate the malfunction was due to a faulty wheel. The affected train was removed for wheel repairs. Unaffected trains were put back in service the following day. Link | Link | Link

While the original stalled coaster was not reported, news coverage emerged of a patron encroaching into a roller coaster to bring water to riders stuck on the Wildcat at Frontier City (OK, US). The trespasser was reportedly banned from all Six Flags properties for five years. The patron told reporters that staff told him they did not have people trained to take water to the riders. Although he did not claim having any such training himself, he said he decided to take the matter into his own hands. The trespasser framed the operator’s response as “we have no one to do it” (and he saw himself as someone that could do it). Would a response of “the train could move at any time; it is too dangerous to climb up to it” have changed his perception? The trespasser claimed the roller coaster enclosure had no signs indicating restriction to authorized personnel. Most fences have such a sign at some point, but not at all points, nor do they need such a sign at all points, because restriction is inherent to the nature of fences. The trespasser’s actions exposed himself and others to hazards including possibly being struck by a train due to potential restart of the ride (since he had no information about whether this was being done), potential fall while climbing a structure not intended for climbing, and potential secondary hazards to others needing to rescue him or others as a result of his actions. Link

Other excluded

Some events occur at attractions that are not closely related to being attractions, and most are excluded here. RRRR does not recap criminal behaviour and assault. However, some of the mechanisms are broadcast in media compilations because they could be relevant to attractions.

For example, at Splash Summit Waterpark (Utah, US), a tree branch fell on some patrons. Thorough safety inspections consider the condition of nearby landscaping to ensure guests on attractions cannot strike against overgrown foliage, and damaged foliage cannot fall onto guests. This can be difficult in a heavily landscaped or natural environment, and after severe weather has occurred. Link

While attractions venues are often described as “magical”, they are not magical in the sense of preventing natural death. On 15 July 2021, a 30-year-old man “died after [taking] ill” at Flamingo Land (UK). No connection to specific rides or attractions was mentioned. This post will be updated if a connection to attractions is reported in a follow-up. Link

Prior periods

Events occurring in prior periods receive media coverage for various reasons, often because of litigation milestones (claims filed, decision reached), anniversaries of notable events, and references arising from recent similar events. Presumably in response to the Michigan malfunction, social media revisited a case previously published, but not logged in industry coverage, from the Antipolo Fair, near Manila Philippines, 29 December 2019, in which a horizontally revolving ride “Spiral Jets” malfunctioned in use, with two seats detaching from the ride, captured on bystander video. Both riders required medical attention. Link | Link

Updates to June 2021, mountain coaster injury case, log flume case, and drowning case.

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About Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (https://thrilllab.blog.ryerson.ca), and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.