10 Deadliest Roller Coaster Accidents

Californians love roller coasters. In fact, California has nearly 120 roller coasters in operation. This number does not include the hundreds of portable roller coasters that pass through California each year at its carnivals and fairs.

Cal/OSHA sets and enforces safety standards for amusement park rides. Unfortunately, amusement park accidents still happen, and these accidents often result in deaths and permanent injuries.

Here are some things you should know about roller coaster accidents and a list of the ten deadliest roller coaster accidents.

Roller Coaster Accidents

Roller coasters thrill riders with their speed and power. The world’s tallest roller coaster towers at a height exceeding 450 feet. The fastest roller coaster reaches speeds of nearly 150 miles per hour.

As a result, roller coasters are subject to an enormous amount of stress. Cars, tracks, supports, and drive mechanisms wear out over time. Many roller coasters are also exposed to extreme weather, which can cause corrosion.

How Do Roller Coaster Accidents Occur?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tracks every roller coaster accident that takes place in the U.S.  According to the CPSC, injuries from roller coaster accidents almost always fall into four categories, which we’ll explore below.

No Fault

Some accidents occur without someone being at fault. For example, accidents can happen due to weather, electrical blackouts, and other causes that are beyond control.

Guest Behavior

Guest behavior represents the most common cause of injuries on amusement park rides. Guests contribute to accidents by failing to follow park rules and refusing to abide by safety instructions. Guests may engage in negligent or deliberate behavior that poses a risk to themselves and other guests.

Guest Health Issues

All of the warning signs in the queues exist for a reason. The physical stress of some amusement park rides can aggravate existing medical conditions. Known and unknown health issues make up the second most common cause of injuries on roller coasters and other rides.

Park Negligence

Parks have a lot of responsibility. Among the tasks that park staff must perform on every ride are inspection, maintenance, repair, and operation.

Inspection

Amusement parks conduct routine inspections. Ride engineers walk the tracks, looking for loose bolts, debris, damaged tracks, and other safety issues. They are responsible for inspecting ride vehicles, controls, drive mechanisms, and supports.

Maintenance

Routine maintenance can reduce the risk of accidents by keeping the ride in working order and replacing parts before they fail.

Repair

When a ride breaks down, the park must identify the problem, repair it, and test the ride’s function before returning it to operation.

Operation

Parks undertake the responsibility to hire ride operators and train them to run the ride safely. The park also has an obligation to post warnings and make sure that operators enforce the rules. 

Ten Deadliest Ride Accidents

The U.S. has a low accident rate from amusement park rides. In an average year, the U.S. has two to four roller coaster deaths. Ride failures or operator errors cause about half of these deaths. Guest misconduct or health issues cause the other half.

But rides also cause serious injuries, including whiplash, muscle strain, broken bones, and heart attacks. Riders might not die from these injuries, but they might live with the consequences of these injuries for the rest of their lives.

Here are some of the most dangerous roller coaster incidents that have occurred around the world.

Bell’s Amusement Park, Oklahoma (1997)

In this incident, a roller coaster malfunctioned on the lift hill. The ride stalled at the top of the hill, and the safety mechanism preventing the vehicle from rolling backward broke.

The ride rolled backward down the lift hill and struck another train. A boy was killed, and six other riders suffered injuries.

The amusement park failed to use a manufacturer-approved part when it installed the component that broke.

Willard’s Whizzer, California (1980)

A roller coaster safety mechanism malfunctioned in this accident and allowed a train to strike another train in the loading area. The collision knocked a rider onto the track, where the train crushed him. Eight other riders were also injured in the collision.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, California (2003)

On this ride, a wheel assembly broke off from a ride vehicle and caused the train to derail inside of a tunnel. When the train derailed, it crashed into the ceiling of the tunnel and broke apart.

The derailed part of the train crushed a rider. The accident was blamed on poor maintenance practices.

Fujin Raijin II, Osaka, Japan (2007)

Like the incident in California, a wheel axle broke off of a roller coaster in Japan and caused a derailment. The derailed car tipped over, and a rider struck her head on a guardrail. The rider died in the accident.

The park skipped the annual maintenance for the ride in 2007. This failure was blamed for the accident.

Derby Racer, Massachusetts (1911-1936)

The most dangerous roller coaster in American history might have been one of its first. The Derby Racer in Massachusetts was built in 1911. Although the roller coaster remained in operation for 25 years, its first six years of operation saw three fatal accidents.

Wild Wonder, New Jersey (1999)

A series of malfunctions resulted in two deaths and one injury. The coaster’s drive chain disengaged prematurely, and the anti-rollback mechanism failed. The coaster rolled backward down the lift hill toward the loading area. The coaster’s brakes failed and struck a train in the loading area. The accident was blamed on an improperly installed replacement part.

Rough Riders, New York (1915)

In this incident, an electric coaster suddenly accelerated and derailed on a turn. The train ejected five people onto a railing that was 30 feet above the ground. Three of those people fell to their deaths. The two others suffered injuries from the ejection but hung onto the broken train car until emergency workers rescued them.

Mindbender, Edmonton, Canada (1986)

An indoor roller coaster in Canada derailed as it approached a loop. It stalled at the top of the loop and slid backward. The train struck a concrete pillar, killing three riders and injuring 15 others. The accident was blamed on an improperly installed wheel assembly.

Big Dipper, Nebraska (1930)

One of the deadliest roller coaster accidents in U.S. history happened in 1930 when a brake mechanism failed and jammed the coaster’s wheel. The train derailed and fell 35 feet. The accident killed four riders and injured 19 more.

Big Dipper, London, England (1972)

Another deadly roller coaster crash happened in London. The lift chain disengaged prematurely, causing the roller coaster to roll backward down the lift hill. The train derailed on a turn, and five riders were killed. Another 13 riders were injured.

Responsibility for Roller Coaster Accidents

An amusement park could be liable for roller coaster accidents. To prove liability, you will need to prove that the park’s employees or owners were negligent. As the roller coaster accidents listed above illustrate, park negligence in maintenance, inspection, and repair can lead to injuries and wrongful deaths.