Amusement parks are places families come to relax and unwind after a long week, to get away from the stress of day to day life. With enjoyable rides, tasty snacks, and a joyful atmosphere, it is no wonder so many people worldwide seek these parks out for a day of leisure and fun.
These days, safety takes priority in a number of these parks, ensuring guests have a safe and enjoyable experience… but this was not always the case. In fact, some amusement park safety laws came into being following tragic incidents that occurred on site at some of these parks to reinforce the safety of all visitors. Through these times of tragedy comes the opportunity to learn from past mistakes, reflect on them, and move forward into a new age of safety.
That is why it is important not only to discuss the incidents themselves, but also the repercussions and safety laws that came into being following the accidents. Join us on our journey as we dissect and reflect on Dark Theme Park History...
The Mindbender Accident
On September 15 1981, West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada opened to the public. Today, it is the second largest existing mall in North America, beaten only in size by Minnesota’s Mall of America. West Edmonton Mall also holds a number of other records, including the world’s largest parking lot, the world’s largest indoor lake, and the world’s tallest indoor roller coaster.
This coaster is, of course, the famous Mindbender and it still boasts this impressive record to this day. The Mindbender belongs to the indoor amusement park Galaxyland, one of the mall’s most impressive offerings. Galaxyland is the second largest indoor amusement park in the world following Ferrari World. Along with Mindbender, Galaxyland also boasted a handful of rides for all ages and all thrill levels including a drop tower, slingshot, ferris wheel, and a carousel. The Mindbender coaster was opened to the public in 1985 and was easily one of the most popular rides inside the park.
One evening, around six months into the coaster’s operation, one of the ride operators reported an odd sound coming from the coaster and phoned it in. Maintenance arrived to locate the problem and sent an empty train around the track to replicate the noise. As the empty train completed the circuit, there was no unusual sound to be heard. The operators were given the all-clear to reopen the ride.
A few cycles later, the operators noticed the sound again, coming specifically from the yellow train. Again, they closed the ride and called maintenance, and again maintenance came to inspect the issue. This time, they ran the empty yellow train through the circuit, and again no strange sound was heard. This was likely due to the weight difference between the train being empty and the train being full of passengers. Maintenance again told the operators to reopen the ride.
Some time later, a full yellow train embarked on the track. This time, part way through the ride, the wheel assembly on the last car detached from the main axle, leaving the car without any wheels. The momentum from the coaster dragged the car along, causing it to fishtail wildly. The thrashing of the car caused it to connect with the track, tearing out critical pieces of the underside including the locking mechanism for the lap restraints. All lap bars in the fourth car were released, resulting in all the malfunctioning car’s riders to be ejected from the train and dropped twenty five feet onto the concrete floor below.
The train continued along the track, but the loss of speed prevented the train from completing the upcoming vertical loop. The train descended back down, smashing into a thick support pillar and finally bringing the train to a halt. Almost all riders of the yellow train suffered some sort of neck or spine injury following the accident. Of the four ejected passengers from the doomed fourth car, only one survived the fall. He was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries.
An investigation was launched almost immediately and revealed that the wheel assembly had not been properly secured to the main axle and ride maintenance had failed to ensure the quality of the train had not degraded over time. At the time, maintenance checks were done solely visually and due to the placement of the wheels, they were exceptionally difficult to check without removing the train from use.
After the accident, the Mindbender itself went through rigorous changes. The fourth car was removed from all trains and additional wheel axles were added as a failsafe–in case one wheel axle detached, the train car would not be left wheelless.
This change actually allowed ride operators to position the third car facing backwards for certain popular events to give riders an extra thrill of not being able to see where they are going. Along with the changes to the cars, replacement restraints were implemented. Instead of a single lap bar restraint, the Mindbender was equipped with over the shoulder restraints and a seatbelt. If another unfortunate incident caused the shoulder restraints to unlock, the risk of passengers being ejected was diminished.
As horrible and tragic as this incident was, many industry-wide changes regarding rider safety resulted from it. Many modern coasters have been equipped with additional safety measures to prevent similar disasters from taking place. Today, many ride operators and maintenance workers are trained to remove the coaster from the track to properly inspect any potentially malfunctioning parts. Strictly visual checks are much rarer than they were before the accident.
This accident shaped the way the amusement park industry viewed ride safety and brought about a lot of significant changes that carry over to today.