In 2007, an incident occurred at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Kentucky, after a teen boarded the Superman: Tower of Power attraction. At the time, the park was still under the Six Flags brand and was operating under the name Six Flags: Kentucky Kingdom after the original owner struggled to keep the project afloat after a disappointing opening season. After Premier Parks took the reins and rebranded under the Six Flags name, Kentucky Kingdom transformed a handful of attractions and attached popular IPs including Looney Tunes and DC Comics.
One of these attractions was the Superman: Tower of Power (formerly “Hellevator”), a 177-foot drop tower which received its new name and a refurbishment in 2007. However, less than a year after it’s rebranding, an accident would take place that cut the ride’s lifespan short.
On June 21, 2007, a set of cables snapped as the ride was ascending the lift, striking some of the passengers. Despite the audible snap of the cables, unfamiliar smell of the malfunctioning machinery, and the unusual screaming from the riders, the ride was not stopped. During this time, severed cables became tangled around thirteen-year-old Kaitlyn Lassiter and her friends. As Lassiter recalls, “It kept going up and at this point, I had cables all over my body. There was a cable hanging below me. There were cables all over my friends.”
Realizing the severity of the situation, Kaitlyn desperately wriggled out of the cable wrapped around her neck and torso and attempted to reach the one coiled around her legs, but by now the ride was reaching the top of the lift. As the ride dropped, the cable pulled tight, severing the girl’s feet and shattering her femur. The girl was quickly transported to the hospital where her right foot was successfully reattached. Unfortunately her left foot could not be saved and her leg required amputation below the knee.
Following the incident, an investigation was launched. The Superman: Tower of Power was closed in the days after. Along with the ride’s investigation, other similar drop towers around the country were closed to undergo similar inspections to ensure rider safety.
So what exactly went wrong that caused this tragic event?
Although thankfully no lives were lost that day in 2007, a very public incident like this requires answers to calm the public and assert the safety of the rest of the park’s assets. Following the investigation, it was revealed that Intamin, the developer of the drop tower, had provided an instruction manual with guides on proper care for the cables every six months.
Six Flags had neglected to follow the proper protocol. In addition, the ride operators the day of the incident failed to stop the ride in a timely manner. Training was a glaring contributor in the outcome of this accident. Superman: Tower of Power never reopened after the accident and was removed in 2008. Although the ride was promptly removed from operation, some similar incarnations from this style of drop ride remain operational today at other Six Flags theme parks.
Although it is inevitable that breakdowns and problems will arise on roller coaster and theme park attractions, manufacturers such as Intamin provide extensive details to theme park operators to ensure the attractions are maintained correctly and unnecessary incidents are avoided. In the case of this incident in 2007, Six Flags had neglected to follow the correct protocol in the case of maintaining the cables and ensuring proper training was given to the ride operators.