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How Old Are Your Amusement Park Attractions?

On June 14, 2018, what started out as just another night of fun and amusement at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk turned into a nightmare of fear and pain for 10 amusement-goers in a roller coaster. The ride, dubbed the “Sandblaster” was going through another circuit of the rollercoaster tracks when the unexpected happened. The front car completely derailed from the tracks.

Amanda Bostic, 34, of Knott County, Kentucky, was in the front car, along with a co-worker, and her two children. She and her co-worker, despite being belted into the roller coaster car, were thrown from the vehicle when it went off the rails, falling over 30 feet to the ground. Her children remained stranded in the car, that was still attached to others in the roller coaster, but was now fully off the rails. The car hung suspended above the air as the ride finally ground to halt when staff and onlookers realized what was happening and the ride was shut down.

While the two injured victims on the ground were immediately seen to by paramedics and sent to the hospital for further treatment, the two children in the front car, as well as the remaining six other passengers, had to wait for rescue by the fire department.

Later reports from both passengers on the ride, as well as previous passengers paints an increasingly clear story. The passengers on the ride when the incident occurred, claimed that the ride felt like it wasn’t completely on the rails and was moving too fast when it took turns. Even before the incident occurred, a 13 year old from Atlanta, Trever Gutierrez, who has frequently attended Daytona Beach Boardwalk with family, and ridden the Sandblaster multiple times, claimed the last time he rode it, the ride felt bumpy.

For the moment, officials with police, firefighters and the Boardwalk itself are claiming they do not know what happened, or why the Sandblaster car derailed.


The Ride Itself


The Sandblaster ride is not new, although it is relatively new to Daytona Beach Boardwalk. The ride itself first debuted in the park just five years ago, in 2013. However, before that, it had been a mainstay of a Delaware amusement park for 40 years before that. Comparatively speaking, this was a very old ride. So that fact that this was a rollercoaster that was already in operation for a few decades, then disassembled and reassembled in Florida may play a role in this critical failure.

However, it’s not the age of an amusement attraction alone that can be blamed on malfunction this serious. While it’s true that older mechanisms may be more prone to failure than newer ones, older mechanisms can still work properly and safely if those failures are spotted and addressed, such as replacing a wheel, or a piece of track that might need repair.

In fact, it is the legal responsibility of any amusement park to make certain that all attractions are regularly inspected to ensure that missing such potential failures does NOT occur. After inspections are conducted, documents are then signed as a matter of record to indicate that inspections have occurred. If repairs are conducted on an attraction, these are also noted on an attraction’s record, to indicate what kind of repairs have taken place.

In this instance, despite the fact that all protocol—at least on the surface—has been observed, the front car of a roller coaster derailed at high speed, and people were thrown from the amusement, resulting in injury. Of course, it could have been much worse. In 1986, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, an indoor amusement park in West Edmonton Mall, at that time, the largest mall in the world, experienced a rollercoaster car derailment. The accident resulted in three deaths and 19 injuries. Later investigation showed that while the ride operator expressed concern about the condition of the attraction, and whether it was safe, management, afraid of a loss of profit for the day, instructed the operator to ignore procedure, and allow the attraction to continue for the day.


The Consequences


In this Florida case, an investigation is still ongoing, since the accident was so recent. While the appropriate documents have been signed, claiming that the last inspection yielded a ride that was safe to continue to operate, clearly that was not the case, as shown by the incident. The exact cause will have to be determined, and there’s a good chance that with the accident occurring despite official inspections claiming safety, there is probably some negligence at work somewhere down the line. Perhaps operators of the ride, while conducting daily inspections failed to notice or inform the park of possible malfunctions. Or perhaps the park itself, similar to the West Edmonton Mall incident, were afraid of the loss of revenue and took a chance on the attraction’s operation.

Whatever the case, this is likely to be a case of premises liability, with the appropriate legal action taken by the victims.