Terrifying theme park disasters – from haunted house inferno to rapids horror
There’s no thrill quite like taking the plunge on a big dipper – but on rare occasions theme park rides can be truly terrifying.
Over the weekend, adrenaline junkies braving the UK’s tallest rollercoaster were forced to climb down 213ft after it creaked to a halt near the top.
Spooked onlookers joked “you’d have to get me out with a crane” as staff escorted passengers to safety on The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
However, the nerve-wracking descent pales in comparison to some horrific incidents that have marred theme parks over the decades.
From a haunted house inferno that burned victims beyond recognition to a tragic 100ft fall from a water coaster, these are some of the world’s most terrifying park disasters.
World’s worst coaster disaster
Shockingly, the world’s deadliest ever rollercoaster crash happened in London in 1972, on a ride described as ‘the London Eye of its day’.
On the afternoon of May 30, 31 visitors boarded a carriage train on the Big Dipper in Battersea Park Fun Fair.
At the top of the first incline, the train momentarily detached from the drive train, sending it hurtling backwards before derailing and crushing those in the lower carriage.
“As soon as we started shooting backwards everything went into slow motion,” Carolyn Adamczyk, a survivor of the crash said.
“I turned around and saw the brake man desperately trying to put the brake on, but it wasn’t working.
“Most of the carriages didn’t go around the bend, one detached and went off the side through a wooden hoarding. People were groaning and hanging over the edge. It was awful.”
Two teenage boys and an eight-year-old girl died at the scene, while two more children died later.
Deadly haunted house blaze
The deadliest theme park disaster ever, however, came not on a rollercoaster, but inside a US haunted house.
Eight teenagers were killed after a blaze broke out at the Haunted Castle at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey, on May 11, 1984.
Spreading rapidly due to the attraction’s air conditioning, the fire melted through metal walls and quickly engulfed the building.
The group died of smoke inhalation, but were left burned beyond recognition.
Frank McDonnell, who at the time was a 22-year-old volunteer for Jackson Fire Company, recalled how when responding to the blaze he couldn’t tell the difference between the prop skeletons and the bodies.
“I assisted with the removal of bodies and will never forget the smell of burning tires and plastic,” he said.
Shock Smiler crash
The Smiler crash at Alton Towers sent shockwaves around the UK in June 2015 as 16 people were injured at one of the nation’s most popular theme parks.
Two girls lost their legs after a carriage on the flagship £18million ride hurtled towards another cart stranded on the tracks.
Merlin, the park’s operator, was fined £5million over the disaster and the victims received millions in compensation.
Vicky Balch, 25, last year revealed she was funding her wedding with her payout after losing her right leg in the crash.
She said: “I had to face that this was going to be something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. What normal 24-year-old has to think about any of that?
“I don’t think I’m ever going to get real closure. I need to go to the same physio my entire life, the same appointments my entire life. But at least now I can live my life.”
Rocket ride loses control
A rocket simulator went horribly wrong in 2010 when one of its cars plunged 35ft to the ground.
The Space Journey ride in Shenzhen, south-eastern China, had a multi-car centrifuge that whirled inside a domed screen, showing movies about space.
However, on June 29, one of the cars came loose and lost all power, with more than 44 people inside.
Six people were killed and 10 more were taken to hospital unconscious. Reports say the tragedy was caused by a faulty, loose screw.
River rapids horror
Four adults were killed when a river rapids ride flipped over at Australia’s biggest amusement resort in 2016 – becoming the nation’s worst theme park accident in 40 years.
Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi all lost their lives at the Dreamworld theme park on the Thunder River Rapids ride on October 25.
After their raft turned over following a collision, the passengers were tossed on to a conveyor belt before being crushed by the ride’s mechanism.
Miraculously, Low’s six-year-old son and Goodchild’s 12-year-old daughter survived, but were heartbreakingly forced to watch as their mothers died before them.
Queensland Police’s Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd said: “In terms of how they escaped, maybe through the providence of God.
“From what I have seen, it’s almost a miracle that anybody came out of that.”
Tragic 100ft plunge
Sunday school teacher Hayley Williams, 16, plunged 100ft to her death after the safety restraints of a water rollercoaster in Wales failed.
The incident, which is the only fatality on a modern steel rollercoaster in the UK, occurred at the Oakwood theme park, near Narberth, in April 2004.
The park was later fined £250,000 for failing to adhere to basic safety procedures.
Mum Beverley Williams, who has since called for tighter theme park regulations, said that “never in a million years did I think I was never going to see my child again”.
“You just think they [the rides] are foolproof, the ride was only 18 months old, it cost £1.8million to have it put in,” she said.
“You’re spending a lot of money to go into these parks, you want to know they are maintained.”
Horrific death after jumping fence
Teenager Asia Leeshawn Ferguson was horrifically decapitated on a Batman ride in 2008 after hopping two fences and entering a restricted area.
Witnesses claimed the 17-year-old was trying to retrieve his hat on the roller coaster at Six Flags, Georgia, when the train collided with him.
Ferris wheel turns over
Three girls were left seriously injured by a ferris wheel in Tennessee when the carriage suddenly flipped over in 2016.
Private inspectors believe a mechanical failure at the county fair caused the gondola to turn, reportedly dropping its occupants up to 40ft.
A six-year-old girl suffered a traumatic brain injury, while her 10-year-old sister broke her arm.