Rollercoasters are meant to be 'terrifying,' but only in the broadest possible meaning of the word. We climb onto the contraptions and scream our lungs out but at no point do we actually fear physical harm. Unfortunately for a group of theme park attendees in England, the terror of their rollercoaster experience became much too real.
Yesterday, tragedy unfolded at Britain's most famous theme park, Alton Towers, when two carriages collided on the tracks. The incident, which took place on the now rather ironically named 'Smiler,' resulted in four serious injuries which have since been described as "life-changing."
According to the BBC, the incident involved one carriage carrying 16 guests colliding with a stationary empty carriage further along the track. It is currently not entirely clear what caused the crash, although it appears the braking system designed to prevent such catastrophes did not work correctly. Nick Varney, chief executive of the park's owners Merlin Entertainments, explained:
Those two cars should not have been on the same piece of track. Technically that should not have happened. There are braking locks that should stop two cars being on the same section of track and somehow that didn't work the way it was meant to.
However, former employees also told the Guardian newspaper some human error must be to blame as the carriage with passengers should not have left before the empty test carriage returned.
As a result of the incident the entire park has now been closed until further notice. Below is a POV video of how the ride should go:
All 16 passengers on the ride experienced some kind of injury, although two men (aged 27 and 18) and two women (aged 19 and 17) experienced serious leg injuries. Senior paramedic, Peter Howell, told the BBC:
The women's injuries were worst, both suffered open wounds and damaged legs; the two men had leg and chest injuries but were less seriously hurt.
Following the crash, some of the passengers were trapped on the ride for up to four-and-a-half hours. It came to a halt after the collision, but hung at a 45 degree angle 25ft (7.6m) up in the air, hampering rescue attempts.
This isn't the first time the Smiler has caused injuries, although it certainly is the most serious. Here is a list of its hsitory:
- When debuted to a group of 16 journalists in 2013, the ride came to a halt while climbing a steep incline.
- The ride also shut down for four days in July 2013 when a piece fell off the track. 48 people had to be rescued.
- It was closed again for five days in August 2013 following a "technical issue."
- In November 2013, it closed for a further five days after wheels fell off and hit four people in the front carriage. Remarkably none of them were seriously hurt.
- 14 months ago more riders were left stranded in the air, then the ride came to a halt at the top of a near vertical section.
However, Varney was adamant that most of these stoppages never endangered the welfare of the public. When asked about the ride's history, he replied:
An awful lot of misreporting going on about that. Guest safety on those sorts of incidents is not really a major issue in the sense that when you are on a rollercoaster car, the car can't come off the track. When you have a glitch and the ride stops, it's not really an issue of safety to the riders.
After arriving at the serious trauma ward at Royal Stoke University Hospital, one of the injured passengers has since been discharged.