I have never done a list that scared me more than this one.
I mean, amusement parks are supposed to be places of thrills and entertainment, wonder and awe. They should give fond memories and bring smiles to faces. Why should we expect anything less?
Unfortunately, some parks are cloaked in accidents and misery, giving the writers of the Final Destination franchise a run for their money.
The events detailed here today go well beyond natural disasters, shady deep-fried delicacies, or rigged carnival games. No, these are some of the most unsettling, scandalous, and terrible incidents to occur at theme parks, amusement parks, and water parks over the past few decades.
Some are well-known, while others are obscure. They are all terrible.
Here are 25 Gruesome Amusement Park Incidents.
The King's Crown Ride - Omaha, Nebraska
We will start today’s list of slow with two non-fatal incidents. Elizabeth Gilreath was only 11 years old when she became the tragic victim of one of history’s most horrific ride accidents. Elizabeth was riding the spinning King’s Crown attraction at a fair in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 5, 2016, when her hair became entangled in the ride, ripping her scalp from her head in its totality.
Elizabeth screamed for the ride to stop for more than five minutes, but it did not. Not until a concerned citizen, Jolene Cisneros, took the risk to physically stop the ride with her bare hands. Elizabeth lost her scalp and hair and suffered irreparable damage to her eyes. Through dozens of surgeries, her survival is a testimony to her will to live. Elizabeth eventually managed to recover from most of the injuries she sustained.
Six Flags, Kentucky Kingdom - Louisville, Kentucky
Non-fatal incidents can sometimes leave you chilled in ways that a tragic death could not. The accident involving Kaitlyn Lassiter, 13, is undoubtedly a case in point. She survived an accident at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom’s Superman: Tower of Power ride. Yes, Kaitlyn survived. Her feet did not.
On June 21, 2007, Kaitlyn boarded the Tower of Power, a drop tower experience that simulates a 154-foot fall. One of the ride’s many cables snapped just as the ride began. The ride dropped as it was supposed to, and the other passengers were hit by the cable but were fortunate to receive only minor injuries. Unfortunately for Kaitlyn, the cable got wrapped around her ankles. It shattered her left femur as she fell and severed her feet. Doctors could reattach her right foot, but her left leg had to be amputated below the knee due to the severity of the injury.
Puff the Little Fire Dragon - Lagoon, Utah
The third item on today’s list proves that rides don’t necessarily have to be intense or scary to be deadly. In 1989, a six-year-old boy named Ryan Beckstead removed his seatbelt after the first lap on Puff the Little Fire Dragon, a kiddie ride at Lagoon in Utah, thinking the ride was over. Unfortunately, it actually traveled around the track several times. Ryan fell from the car and ended up stuck underneath the track. As the ride returned after completing its loop, it hit and killed him. Standing on the sidelines, his father could only watch helplessly as his son was struck.
During the investigation, attorneys found no basis to press criminal charges against the Lagoon Corp or the ride operator. The young girl operating the ride did everything she could to pull the brakes, but due to the nature of the ride and its reliance on gravity, it failed to stop in time.
Lightwater Valley Theme Park - North Yorkshire
In 2001, something went horribly wrong on the Treetop Twister roller coaster at the Lightwater Valley amusement park in North Yorkshire, UK. What makes this incident worse is that the accident could have been avoided if the staff had just followed the correct procedures. The ride had only been operational for 4 weeks when it fatally malfunctioned. One of the cars braked and stopped automatically when the one in front of it hadn’t reached the top of a U-shaped turn. At that point, the ride’s electrician decided to use the manual controls to resolve the hold-up, but his actions were devastating.
The stalled car was released and careened downhill before the other car could get out of the way. The two cars collided, sending the poor failing car rolling backward once again – where it crashed with the car approaching it from behind at maximum speed. One of the passengers in the double-collided car died the next day from her head and neck injuries.
Discovery Cove - Orlando, Florida
Our following incident might have more to do with bad luck than actual negligence, but it made the list since nobody expects to die after a visit to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.
Discovery Cove strives to provide an engaging experience for its customers, including the opportunity to snorkel amongst tropical fish and spend time with otters, dolphins, and monkeys. It’s a dream come true for many, but for a 59-year-old British tourist, it turned into a nightmare that led to his death. And you wouldn’t believe why. Keith Clarke cut his toe on a piece of coral while swimming in the Park.
Clarke, a hemophiliac, developed complications from the wound and collapsed three days later at the airport on his way home. He was taken back to England in septic shock, where surgeons attempted to rescue him by amputating his legs below the knee. Unfortunately, Clarke’s organs failed, and he passed away due to group B streptococcal septicemia.
Gulliver's World Theme Park - Warrington, England
Our following account is simply heartbreaking. Salma Saleem, a 15-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome, fell over 6 meters (20 feet) from a Ferris wheel at Gulliver’s World Theme Park in July 2002. Saleem died as a result of head trauma. Following the event, an inquiry revealed that the young girl requested to ride with her mother, but the park attendants thought she was too big and told her to sit in her own gondola.
Neither Salma nor her mother spoke English well enough to object, and the girl apparently climbed out of her seat and fell out soon after the ride began. Although her lap bar was determined to be secured and in place after the accident, the Park was heavily penalized for health and safety violations.
Oakwood Theme Park - Tenby, Pembrokeshire
In April 2004, Hayley Williams visited Oakwood Theme Park with her family, expecting a day of fun and laughter. But the day ended up being the family’s worst nightmare.
Hayley flew out of her car while riding the “Hydro,” a water roller coaster, and fell 30 meters (100 ft) to the ground. She later died as a result of her internal injuries. The Park was fined £250,000 for negligence when it was discovered that staff routinely failed to check seat belts and bars attached to the Hydro.
To add insult to injury, the Park’s owners only closed the ride for one year after Hayley’s death and then reopened it under its new name: “Drenched.” It really makes you wonder where the lust for money ends and common decency begins.
In June 2016, the Graves family was on a Disney World vacation from a rural community in Nebraska. It was 9:30 p.m., and everyone was outdoors watching the fireworks. They had no idea that being near a lake at night in Florida is dangerous, so they let their two-year-old son Lane play at the edge of Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon. It’s a man-made lake in the center of a sophisticated resort, so while his parents watched him to ensure he didn’t fall in, they weren’t prepared for what happened next.
An alligator seized the toddler from the darkness and dragged him into the water. Lane’s father ran toward his son and attempted to wrestle the alligator, but his attempts were futile, and the creature dragged his son underwater. Divers found Lane’s body the following day, but five alligators had to be killed before it could be recovered.
Six Flags Over Georgia - Atlanta, Georgia
Taking riders through Gotham City’s streets and into the Batcave, Batman: The Ride is an exciting roller coaster. Unfortunately, it is just as deadly. In June 2008, the ride took the life of 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson. Ferguson accidentally lost his hat while riding the coaster and, determined to retrieve it, went over two fences and ignored the warning signs that warned visitors of the dangers.
Unfortunately, the young man wandered across the course of the ride as it surged along at 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, and his head was severed. Six years before that, a groundskeeper died under similar circumstances when he approached the ride while it was in motion and received a blow to the head from a passenger’s leg on the coaster.
Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road - Disneyland
Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but despite resulting in a terrible death, this tragedy has received only a fraction of the publicity that the others have. Perhaps this is because it took place in the Happiest Place on Earth – not to mention one of its wealthiest and most powerful: Disneyland.
On September 5, 2003, Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rollercoaster suffered a major malfunction. During the indoor segment, the lead car on the locomotive lost its rear wheels and rocketed up into the roof. The following cars then drove on under the now-embedded lead car, crashing Marcelo Torres into it and killing him. The California Division of Occupational Safety later confirmed that the disaster occurred because machinists did not comprehend or follow the Park’s maintenance procedures, and operators were not provided with the proper guidelines.
Ocean Park - Hong Kong
We’ve all heard the urban legend about the corpse in the theme park attraction (one which eventually turned out to be true). However, this Hong Kong incident was not about a long-forgotten desiccated body in a park attraction; this body was completely fresh.
In 2017, Ocean Park debuted “Buried Alive,” a haunted house-style attraction designed to give visitors the sense of being buried alive before fighting their way out of their dark and creepy grave. However, one 21-year-old male couldn’t find his way out. The young man ended up in a restricted area and was struck and subsequently crushed to death by a mechanical coffin.
Expoland - Suita, Japan
On May 5, 2007, the same day Japan celebrates Children’s Day, disaster struck at Expoland. A unique rollercoaster that could reach speeds of 75km/h (nearly 50 mph) that had been operational for 15 years with no issues broke one of its axles mid-ride, causing it to careen to the side and a female passenger to die after hitting the guardrail. The car dragged her 300 meters (980ft) before finally stopping. Eighteen other passengers were injured.
As it turns out, it was later discovered that the broken axle hadn’t been inspected or maintained in 15 years. In fact, inspectors recovered it from the ground. Three of the Park’s employees were found guilty of professional negligence leading to death and injury and falsifying claims that the Park performed regular checks on the roller coaster. Their justification was that there wasn’t enough space in the Park for fixing and dismantling the cars. The general public was not convinced, and ticket sales plummeted. The Park’s reputation could not be restored, and it closed in 2009.
Schlitterbahn Water Park - Kansas City, Kansas
I’m sure most of you have seen the terrible footage and photographs circling the internet of the tragedy on the former tallest waterslide in the world, the Verrückt. It is a tragedy we would wish on nobody. During a trip down a tall slide on August 7, 2016, Caleb Schwab (the 10-year-old son of a Kansas state representative) died.
Caleb descended the slide in front of a raft with two adult women in the back. This seemingly harmless grouping would unfortunately lead to his death. Due to the uneven weight distribution, the raft became airborne when it reached one of its small bumps on the way down. Caleb was flung against part of the (apparently) protective metal netting and was decapitated. The rollercoaster was closed and completely disassembled.
La Feria de Chapultepec Park - Mexico City
In 2019, the worst fear of any amusement park visitor became a reality for four people in Mexico City’s La Feria de Chapultepec park, which was home to the famous Quimera triple-loop roller coaster that was built in 1984 and can reach speeds of nearly 85 km per hour – or 53 miles per hour.
The fun ride unexpectedly became an instrument of utter terror when the last cart fell off the rails, causing the cart and its four unfortunate riders to plummet 30 feet to the ground. Two young men aged 18 and 21 died on impact, and two female passengers suffered critical injuries. This being the age of mobile phones, the moment of the incident was captured on video, but fortunately, it doesn’t show anything too gruesome.
Mission: Space - Disneyland
Mission Space is controversial because it is one of the most intense space-flight simulators available to the public, and it has connections to a centrifuge used by NASA trainees. Passengers are spun and subjected to 2.5Gs of force, which is twice the force of gravity, to produce weightlessness equivalent to that experienced by the astronauts. Between 2005 and 2006, park attendants had to deal with over 200 injuries caused by the attraction, including incidences of people passing out, experiencing chest pain, or experiencing irregular heartbeats.
During that time, two people also died, the first being a five-year-old child who died in 2005 from heart failure caused by a prior heart condition. The other death occurred only 10 months later, in 2006 when a 49-year-old woman complained of nausea and dizziness, symptoms prevalent among the ride’s passengers. Following an examination by Disney park staff, who assumed she was stable, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage upon admittance to the hospital.
Since then, Disney has stepped up to figure out how to balance their goals for the experience with the risk of it being too intense. The ride now has two levels: “Green Team” and “Orange Team,” with the former giving many of the same effects as the original ride but with far less power and pressure and fewer physical side effects.
Kings Island Amusement Park - Cincinnati, Ohio
On June 9, 1991, tragedy stalked the grounds of the Kings Island amusement park. In one fatal accident, a man fell into a pond. His buddy, William Haithcoat, and a park employee, Darrel Robertson, both 20 years old, tried to save him. Haithcoat and Robertson both died as a result of an electric shock. Only a few hours later, Candy Taylor, 32, died after falling from the Flight Commander rollercoaster.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the premises of Kings Island have been rumored to be haunted. Several people have reported seeing a young girl dressed in a blue gown. The Park was even used to film an episode of the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters in 2012.
Cyclone @ Coney Island - New York
Today, Coney Island in Brooklyn is a faint replica of its glory days before World War II, but a handful of its more famous icons, such as the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone, remain in operation. The Cyclone, the wooden roller coaster, was constructed in 1927 and is documented on the US National Register of Historic Places. When it first opened, a ride cost only 25 cents, compared to the fee you will pay today.
The rickety coaster has been linked to multiple injuries and at least three fatalities, the most recent being 53-year-old Keith Shirasawa, whose neck was shattered by the tremendous force of the Cyclone’s first drop. Shirasawa was transported to the hospital but died from surgical complications a few days later.
Rough Riders @ Coney Island - New York
The term Rough Riders, which President Theodore Roosevelt used for his cavalry regiment, initially brought attention to this ride. It debuted in 1915 and diverged from modern rollercoasters in that each car had its own ride-on driver, much like a modern subway train. On June 22, 1910, everything was going perfectly until the car suddenly accelerated, causing the wheels to leave the track and the entire vehicle to flip and roll on its side. The passengers were then catapulted into an iron fence 30 feet above the ground.
Three people died as a result of the fall, and the only two survivors were a mother and her 4-year-old kid, who were able to hang to the damaged car’s handrail. One spectator was also killed as the driver’s body fell and struck her from above, bringing the total number of fatalities to four. Astonishingly, the Park was ruled not to be at fault for the accident, with jurors ultimately deciding that the tragedy was “unavoidable.”
The Mindbender - Alberta, Canada
In 1986, the largest mall in the world – the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, featured The Mindbender roller coaster – the world’s highest indoor roller coaster. Now, we’re not convinced that a roller coaster inside a mall is a good idea in the first place, but we digress. The Mindbender became a huge attraction twice over, and its attendance counts confirmed that for decades, with hundreds of people visiting every hour. Only four passengers were unlucky enough to be thrown from the ride; three died.
On June 14, 1986, a car disconnected from the coaster track, its harnesses opened, and four people were launched to the mall’s concrete floor due to faulty construction and poor maintenance. Three died, and the lone surviving passenger, Rod Chayko, has made it his life’s mission to have a memorial placed inside the mall for the fellow passengers who never made it to the ride’s finishing line.
Action Park - New Jersey
Action Park in New Jersey had one of the worst reputations of any amusement park in history. The facility was a perfect combination of dangerous rides, inebriated customers, and indifferent adolescent employees. Countless injuries occurred on the Park’s water slides. During the Park’s history, at least six people were killed, and the fatalities included three drownings, a death by electrocution, and a heart attack presumably caused by the shock of landing in frigid water beneath a rope swing.
Another man died after the car he was sitting in leaped off the Alpine Slide and hit his head on a rock. By 1998, the overwhelming weight of lawsuits obliged the owners to close the Park. It was reopened as Mountain Creek a few years later, with a renewed focus on safety, the irresponsible and deadly history coated underneath signs and regulations.
Dreamworld Thunder River Rapids - Queensland, Australia
At number 5 on today’s list is an accident that was as horrific as it was tragic. A river rafting ride in Queensland, Australia, became one of the deadliest water rides on October 25, 2016. On that day, four of its passengers died after being crushed in the ride’s conveyor mechanism.
During the accident, one of the rafts became stranded after the ride’s water level dropped due to a faulty pump. The two collided when the next raft arrived, and the second raft capsized. Two of the raft’s six passengers – smaller and agile children – escaped, but the rest went under. They horribly remained secured to their seats – lying upside-down – and were crushed to death by the conveyor mechanism. What an awful, awful way to go.
Krug Park - Omaha, Nebraska
On July 24, 1930, one of the deadliest rollercoaster disasters in US history unfolded at Krug Park in Omaha, Nebraska. This is the kind of accident that Hollywood scriptwriters take inspiration from. A bolt was shaken loose on the Park’s only roller coaster – the Big Dipper – and four of the traveling cars soared off the track and plummeted to the ground.
The cars fell over 35 feet and three of the four ended up landing face down on top of its passengers. Four people were killed, and 17 others were injured. It continues to be the deadliest rollercoaster accident in the United States. The tragedy drove the City of Omaha to ban all rollercoasters, effectively killing off Krug Park, which closed down within the next decade.
Big Dipper - Battersea Park, London
There is some sort of paradox here: the deadliest rollercoaster accident in American history happened on the Big Dipper, as did the deadliest rollercoaster accident in the world. Two different Big Dippers, separated by 42 years and one ocean.
On May 30, 1972, the world’s deadliest rollercoaster accident occurred, and this Big Dipper was at a fair at Battersea Park in London. Both the pulling rope and the vehicles’ emergency brake failed as the coaster’s cars were being pulled up the track approaching its first peak. The cars rolled backward, off the track, and ended up going through a barrier. Five people died, all children, while 13 others were injured. The coaster was shut down and dismantled, and without its main ride, the fair met a similar fate to Krug Park and closed down within a few years.
Luna Park - Sydney, Australia
On June 9, 1979, the indoor ghost train ride at Luna Park in Sydney, Australia, caught fire. The tragedy killed seven people, six of them children. The fire destroyed the entire attraction since the Park had never installed a sprinkler system. To this day, nobody knows what caused the fire, but many suspect foul play.
About 35 people rode the train down its pitch-black and spooky track when the fire broke out. Near one of the bends, customers noticed the flames they were seeing were, in fact, real and started screaming. When the staff noticed the smoke, they began pulling guests off the ride but couldn’t reach everyone in time. I can only imagine the passengers’ terror as they realized the nearest fire hose would never reach the entire ride. Many of them probably never realized they were in actual danger until it was far too late.
Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey
In a frighteningly comparable event to the Luna Park ghost train fire, another dark indoor attraction, The Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey), caught fire. Yet again, the Park had failed to install a sprinkler system, and multiple people – 8 this time – died. Again, unsubstantiated arson claims were leveled after the incident, which could never be proven.
The fire broke out on May 11, 1984, trapping 29 passengers onboard the ride. The attraction, primarily made of flammable materials, went up in flames in minutes. Maybe it’s because we can’t fathom actual horror inside a horror house, but many people again mistook the fire for part of the staged terror and reacted too slowly. Horrifically, the badly burnt remains of the eight teens who died in the fire were initially assumed to be just part of the ride.