June 14, 1986: 9 Horrible and Gruesome Recreational Accidents

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A Brief History

On June 14, 1986, the Mindbender, the world’s largest indoor triple-loop roller coaster, derailed and killed three riders at Galaxyland inside West Edmonton Mall, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Today we list 9 horrible accidents that occurred when people were trying to have a good time. Amusement parks, sailing/boating, cycling, hiking, bowling, jogging, sightseeing, just about any recreational activity can be deadly. What other incidents would you include on this list?

Digging Deeper

1. Mindbender Derailment, 1986.

The accident occurred just a few months after the ride’s opening on March 16, 1986. On a Saturday evening in June of that same year, the roller coaster’s yellow train (train No. 1) completed the ride’s second inverted loop before encountering one of three areas of uplift before the third and final loop. Unfortunately, missing bolts on the left inside wheel assembly of the last car of the four-car train caused the bogie assembly to disengage the track, causing the final car to fishtail wildly. To the horror of other park goers watching the disaster unfold from off of the ride, the lap bars disengaged as the train collided with support structures and the now unsecured passengers were thrown off of their seats, killing three and seriously injuring a fourth person. The train eventually slid backwards, unable to make the third and final inverted loop, and crashed into a concrete pillar.  In the aftermath of the tragedy, disturbing information came out about the German company, Schwarzkopf, that manufactured the ride. In addition to problems in the translation from German to English of operational and maintenance information, additional issues concerned quality control as a result of the manufacturer’s going bankrupt during delivery of the ride. Moreover, Mindbender crews in Canada had not been provided a special inspection order from the General Safety Services Division of Germany where the ride was manufactured. Nevertheless, the ride survived its opening year debacle with various fixes having helped the ride to have subsequently been accident free. The ride, which continues to operate, has also, from 1998 to 2010, ranked among the top 50 steel roller coasters according to the magazine Amusement Today.

2. Batman roller coaster decapitation, 2008.

Not only are amusement park rides sometimes dangerous to the rider, they can also be deadly to people not even on the ride. At Six Flags over Georgia in 2008, a 17 year old boy lost his hat while riding on the Batman roller coaster and after leaving the ride he hopped over 2 safety fences to go under the tracks to retrieve his hat. Soon he would never need a hat again, as when the rushing coaster train came thundering by the 50 mph car hit the unfortunate teen in the head, knocking his head clean off his body. The decapitated teen had disregarded signs warning that the area fenced off under the ride was off limits as a safety zone. The decapitated teen was accompanied by a friend who was also in the danger zone but was not injured. As horrible as a decapitation is, the fact is that a similar incident happened at the same ride in 2002, when a 58 year old maintenance worker was in the danger zone under the ride when the train came by. A teenage girl’s dangling legs struck the worker in the head, decapitating him and breaking her leg. The horror of witnessing such events at an “amusement” park must be traumatic.

3. Superman Tower of Power legs severed, 2007.

At the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (Louisville, Kentucky), a teenage girl riding the Superman Tower of Power had her lower legs traumatically amputated by a snapped cable as the ride made its sudden descent. The maimed girl had her right foot successfully reattached, but her left leg was beyond repair. State investigators blamed a faulty cable and a too slow response by the ride operator. The broken cable was noticed by bystanders and ride goers while the passenger compartment was making its ascent, and people began yelling for the operator to stop the ride. The operator either did not hear those warnings or ignored them, as the ride was allowed to go to the top and begin its sudden drop. Another operator hit the emergency stop button, but too late to prevent the tragic accident. State officials fined the park $1000. (That is not a typo, it is one thousand dollars.)

4. Expoland (Japan) head smearing death, 2007.

While riding a roller coaster in part of Expoland, an amusement park created for the 1970 International Exposition in Osaka, Japan, a 19 year old woman was killed when a wheel broke on the Fujin Raijin II stand up roller coaster. The woman was killed when her head was violently thrown against a rail and smeared along the rail for a gruesome 300 meters. Over 30 other people were injured, though only the one woman died. A rider behind the woman that was killed later reported feeling strong vibrations, and then jerking as pieces began to fly off the ride! (Imagine the terror!)

5. Niagara Falls helicopter collision, 1992.

Helicopter rides taking tourists to observe the famous falls are a staple of the Niagara tourist mecca, and this author and his family have taken the very same interesting and thrilling ride. Unfortunately for 4 people, in 1992 a pair of the sightseeing choppers collided with each other, the landing skids of a Canadian helicopter shearing off the main rotor of an American copter, causing the American chopper to fall into a hillside, killing all 4 people aboard. The Canadian helicopter managed to land safely in a nearby parking lot, only the pilot being seriously injured (broken collarbone), 3 of his 4 passengers suffering minor injuries. Horrified tourists were watching as the tragedy unfolded, but fortunately no one on the ground was injured. The site of the crash would normally have been crowded with people waiting to take a cable car ride, but the ride was closed for the season, preventing a potentially much more catastrophic incident.

6. Son of Francis Ford Coppola killed on rental boat, 1986.

Gian Carlo Coppola, son of the famous director Francis Ford Coppola (age 23), rented a 14 foot boat with his friend, Griffin Patrick O’Neal (age 21), the son of actor Ryan O’Neal for a Memorial Day of boating on the South River at Annapolis, Maryland in 1986. Sadly, a towline stretched tight between 2 other vessels was not seen by the famous sons and Coppola’s head was struck as his boat passed under the cable. Coppola was thrown to the deck, hitting his head and causing a massive head wound from which he could not recover. Coppola had been piloting the boat at the time of the accident. The rented boat was estimated to be traveling between 15 and 20 knots at the time of the accident, quite a high speed at which to hit a taut cable.

7. Fatal Cougar attack, 2018.

Every so often someone gets attacked by a Cougar, also known as Mountain Lion, Puma, Catamount or by its scientific name Felis concolor. Sometimes the person attacked ends up dead, and sometimes even eaten by the hungry cat. Bicyclists and hikers seem to be the most likely people to be attacked, and in a fatal incident in May of 2018 in Washington State 2 bikers on a mountain trail were attacked by a vicious cat. The first victim, age 31, was in serious trouble when the cat clamped its big teeth around the man’s head, but his companion, age 32, then ran off to get help, drawing the attention of the cat which let the first victim go and attacked the second man. With no cell phone reception in the area, the first victim rode off on his bike as fast as he could for 2 miles before he could get reception to call for help. When rescuers arrived, the cat had dragged the body of the dead victim to a tree line and was standing over the man, apparently intent on protecting his meal. The cat was killed, but it took rescuers about 4 hours to kill the beast, leaving the body of its horribly mutilated victim lying in place for the entire time. The surviving victim had been taken to a hospital with serious injuries but is recovering. The 100 pound cat was described as an adult male Cougar that was somewhat emaciated, probably the fact that accounts for the rare attack. The fatal Cougar attack was the first in Washington State in almost a century and occurred at 11 am.  (Washington had experienced 16 non-fatal Cougar attacks in the past century.) Cougars, normally 20 to 80 pounds heavier than the one that attacked the cyclists, usually hunt at night and avoid people. The mountain bikers had at first tried to scare off the Cougar by yelling and using their bikes as shields when it first attacked, but obviously without success. An illness or injury may have driven the big cat to desperation to find food.

8. New Texas Giant woman splattered, 2013.

This particular tragedy could have been averted if only the ride’s operator had paid normal attention to the unlucky rider. A 52 year woman riding the New Texas Giant known prior to its 2011 renovation as merely Texas Giant) roller coaster told the operator that she did not think her safety bar was closed properly. The operator blew off her complaint and the coaster was sent on its way. During the ride, the unfortunate woman was launched from her seat and out of the car, to fall 75 feet to her death on top of the ride’s so called “Honky Tonk Tunnel” where she was ripped nearly in half. Her body parts were scattered over a 75 foot radius. The park (Six Flags over Texas, at Arlington) claimed there was no fault of the equipment or design, but retrofitted the ride and ALL their coasters with seat belts to go with the safety bars.

9. Young Woman loses leg to Great White Shark while friends watch and video the event, 1994.

While open ocean swimming between Chile and Easter Island a 19 year old college student working on an ocean research vessel (NOAAS Discoverer) lost her left leg to a giant Great White Shark while her horrified friends watched the terror and one of them took video of the event. Several of the crew had been swimming before the attack when the shark was sighted. When the victim got close enough to the small boat that was launched to save the girl she pulled aboard right out of the shark’s gaping mouth! Rescuers also bravely beat the shark with a stick during the rescue. While other swimmers climbed aboard the main vessel, shots fired at the shark drove it away. Emergency first aid and evacuation to a hospital on Easter Island where a US Air Force medical team had been flown to meet the victim saved her life. Boswell had lost half her blood and was flown to Panama for further treatment. Treatment on board the Discoverer was provided by a US Public Health Services nurse, Lt. Cdr. Judith Layne. The heroics in getting the victim out of the water and the shark’s mouth coupled with incredible life saving medical care made the horrifying event not quite as bad as it otherwise could have been. The shark had also bitten another crew member right before the attack on Heather Boswell, but only causing wounds that required 50 stitches. People being attacked by sharks is an occurrence on the rise around the world, and sometimes friends and bystanders witness the attack. Once in a while the attack is caught on video, providing a grim reminder of the danger sharks pose to those that would use the oceans for recreation.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Cassidy, Cody. And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens If You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon, or Go Barreling over Niagara. Penguin Books, 2017.

Stoneking, Jeffrey. Theme Park Safety Failure$.   AuthorHouse, 2008.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.