Earlier this week, a killer whale caught the attention of the world when it attacked a trainer at SeaWorld, dragging her underwater. While it was certainly a freak accident, the attack once again raised awareness of the unusual dangers that both tourists and employees face at theme parks around the country. Several publications have questioned whether it’s proper to keep a killer whale in a theme park. These creatures can obviously be dangerous, but what about some of the riskier rides you find in other amusement parks?
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Every year, thousands of people get injured from amusement park rides. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 4,900 injuries caused by inflatable rides and 2,500 injuries from “mobile” rides in 2004 (the most recent data they have on record.) On top of this, it’s very likely that more accidents happen than are ever reported. According to SmartMoney, accident reports tend to be filed by the park itself, and not surprisingly, they have good reason to “underreport” the number of mishaps that occur.
Speaking of which…
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I’d like to begin our look at theme park safety with Action Park, which Popular Mechanics describes as a “place of legends.” They point out the Looping Water Slide, a ride so bad that there was actually a rumor that someone sent a crash test dummy down the slide and it arrived “dismembered” at the bottom. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I was privileged enough to visit this park as a kid and I remember the terror (and the thrill) of it. My dad and I used to enjoy the white water rafting ride, despite all the screws and sharp metal bolts you could clearly see poking out of the slide. We used to wait in long lines to ride the Alpine Slide down a mountain, even though it was incredibly easy to fly off of it, landing at the bottom in a bloodied, crumpled heap. And when the theme park closed in the mid 90s after mounting criticism over its safety, we both felt our hearts sink. Frankly, in the grand scheme of things, Action Park seems relatively tame. It gets worse. Much worse.
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Stuck on the Roller Coaster (Upside Down)
It’s happened more times than anyone would like. Something malfunctions and unsuspecting people are left hanging on the roller coaster. One of the worst stories is from back in 2007, when riders were actually stuck upside down in a roller coaster for more than an hour at a theme park in Arkansas. That’s enough to make anyone lose their lunch. The same thing happened at Six Flags and someone actually made a video of passengers complaining about blood rushing to their heads.
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Importing Urine? Bad Idea
This one is really more of a danger-in-the-works, since it hasn’t actually happened yet. But we like to stay on top of these things. The Thorpe Park in the UK is asking people to send in their urine, and not just any urine, but the “smelliest possible urine.” Why? Because they are introducing a “maze attraction” based on the movie Saw and apparently they need stinky pee to complete the experience. What the hell? It’s tough to imagine that even the most daring amusement park aficionado would want to get doused in stinky pee at the end of a ride. Actually, the pee pee solicitation is part of a contest. The stinkiest pee will be reproduced and the scent will be incorporated into the ride. I just threw up.
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Dangerous Water Slides
Water slides may seem safer than other rides. After all, how often does water hurt anyone? But as SmartMoney notes, people can go as fast as 25 miles per hour on some water slides, which means just landing in the water can be dangerous. In one terrible story, a 22 year old went down a water slide at a park in New Jersey and landed head first in the pool with so much force that he became completely paralyzed. Besides the fact that you should always avoid going head first, the bigger problem was that the pool itself was only 3 feet deep, much less than needed to absorb the impact of a person going so fast.
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Man Ejects Prematurely From Ride
A few years ago, a man and his family were riding on a flume at the Steel Pier amusement park in Atlantic City. Apparently, something malfunction and the man was “ejected” out of the flume and “thrown through a plexi-glass sheet.” Members of his family were also injured in the accident.
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Disney World may be the most famous theme park in the world but it still has a mixed history when it comes to safety, particularly for employees. Last year, several performers died at the park, one during a monorail collision. Other employees have reported injuries, as well as risks from exposed wires. In 2007, Disney settled a lawsuit with the family of a 4 year old boy with a heart condition who died on the “Mission: Space” ride. Disney responded by taming down the ride.
On a lighter note, there are other kinds of dangers for kids at Disney – namely sexual subliminal messages and rowdy teens who go to topless on rides.
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Merry Go Round Fatility
It should be the safest ride of any in the park, but even the merry go round has its risks. According to an article in People magazine, there have been cases of children dying on these rides. Merry go rounds “have those little shoulder straps, and children fall off and hang themselves.” Of course, this kind of incident is infrequent but if you are going on a ride with small children, make sure you stay close and don’t take your eyes off of them.
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Don't Vomit On Me Bro
Not everyone is built to ride a rollercoaster, so it’s no surprise that some people end up vomiting after the ride, but the worst is when the person ends up vomiting during the ride… and “splattering” the passengers directly behind them. This also can cause a chain reaction, also known as a barf-a-rama.
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Popular Mechanics compiled a list of five theme park rides that “pushed the limits of common sense.” While these rides have since been decommissioned, the fact that they existed at all points to the recklessness of theme parks (and the people who go to them.) My personal favorite is the human catapult ride in Middlemoor Water Park in the UK.
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ThemeParkInsider has a useful list of common sense tips you should follow when going to a theme park, the most important of which is to know your health and your limits. If you have a heart condition, have trouble standing, or just have a fear of heights, those should dictate the rides you go on. Besides that, they urge you not to get too rowdy, stay firmly in your seat and hold on tight during the rides. Obviously, there is only so much you can do. Unless you’re a mechanical engineer, you probably won’t be able to spot a faulty ride in a single glance. But if you do see any cause for concern, don’t hesitate to let one of the theme park attendants know. Although sometimes the attendants may actually be your cause for concern…
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How Old Are the Employees Really?
In their round-up of facts that theme parks don’t want you to know, SmartMoney points out that many operators tend to be very young and inexperienced. “Even the most benign ride can turn dangerous when an inexperienced person is operating it,” they write. Some states currently have laws on the books to ensure that the operators have enough training, but it’s not yet a universal rule. At the very least, you should make sure that the employee is paying attention to the ride and not staring at their college textbook, doing homework.
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From Theme Parks to Hospitals
Lots of the stuff in this story could or did land someone in the hospital, but as a recent MainStreet post points out, Hospitals aren't always the safest places either. Take a look at Hospital Horror Stories... if you dare.
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Tell Us Your Stories
Have you or someone you know had a bad or unusual experience at a theme park? Let us know in the comments section!
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