Amusement parks are a classic summer outing and fun for the whole family. Cotton candy, funnel cakes, carousels, giant teddy bears—what could go wrong? Most of the time nothing. However, sometimes even a walk in the park can be fatal. Some of the most gruesome accidents occur at amusement parks and carnivals, made even worse by the fact that they’re supposed to be places for fun and entertainment. Amidst the colors and lights of many rides lie some terrifying tales of dismemberment, decapitation, and drowning. This list offers some of the scariest incidents that have occurred at amusement parks and that could happen to anyone.
1. No Walk In The Park
Traveling fairs have gotta be one of the most classic first date spots. Maybe I’m just a huge The Notebook fan, but I don’t think you can go wrong with cotton candy, giant teddy bear prizes, and gripping thrill rides. That is, unless you went to the Ohio State Fair in 2017. That year a ride called the Fire Ball rolled into Columbus, Ohio complete with a spinning pendulum and three or four thorough safety inspections.
Even still, the ride broke down and sent riders flying into the air, killing one man and injuring several others.
2. Wait Times May Vary
No matter how safe a roller coaster feels or claims to be, I can’t help but wonder whether it might break down. Is my seat belt too loose? Will the top of the tunnel hit my outstretched arms? Millions of people visit venues with thrill ride attractions every year and the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that in 2016 alone 30,900 people were sent to the hospital with injuries from amusement park accidents.
3. Darwinism At Work
If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that human stupidity knows no bounds. No matter how many examples of injuries and fatalities occur at amusement parks, about 60% of them are caused by the inappropriate behavior of visitors. So, as long as you’re smart about your fun, you should come out safe and sound.
4. Odds Are…
According to the International Association for Amusement Parks, your chances of spending a night at the hospital for an injury obtained at an amusement park is around one in 16 million.
5. Insane Is Right…
When the name of your water slide literally translates to the word “insane,” you’re just asking for trouble. The Verrückt was taller than Niagara Falls and sent you down a big hill, up a big hill, and then off a final massive drop. The slide was so terrifyingly dangerous that there were delays in its initial opening. The whole thing was too steep, so that park made it a little less verrückt—but apparently, they didn’t do enough.
They redesigned over half of the ride, yet it still proved fatal to one boy, whose raft was sent flying off the track and into the metal grating above, decapitating him. Though the park allegedly employed rigorous safety precautions, they weren’t enough. Unsurprisingly, the park shut down Verrückt for good after the tragedy.
6. The Dinosaurs Strike Back
After losing his wallet on a ride called the Raptor at Cedar Point in Ohio, a 45-year-old man decided to hop the ride’s fence and retrieve it. Unfortunately, I bet you can guess where this is going…one of the coaster’s trains struck the man, and he didn’t survive. For the love of god, if you ever lose something on a roller coaster, either ask the staff or just take the L. It’s not worth it.
7. Always Wear Your Seatbelt
“As long as you heard the click, you’re fine,” the amusement park staff member running the Texas Giant at Six Flags told Rosy Esparza in 2013. Her safety belt had only gone down once, unlike everyone else’s, so she had expressed some concern. The staff were pretty chill about it and she rode the ride anyway. The roller coaster was 14 stories high and boasted “the world’s steepest drop.” It turns out, Esparza was not “fine.”
As you can probably guess by that foreshadowing, Esparza was thrown from her seat on the ride and succumbed to her injuries soon after. Understandably, they closed the ride down for months after the incident and didn’t reopen until they had adjusted their safety measures. So, I’m suuure you’ll be fine if you visit today…
8. One Last Thrill
Accidents can even happen to the best of us. James Hackemer served his country as a soldier in Iraq and lost both of his legs because of it. After returning stateside, Hackemer went to Darien Lake amusement park for some fun with his family. According to those with him, Hackemer was determined to ride every coaster in the park. That included the Man of Steel, which has only a seatbelt and a lap bar for protection.
No attendants questioned whether or not it was a good idea for a double-amputee to ride such a coaster, and Hackemer paid the ultimate price for it. The safety devices couldn’t restrain him properly, and he ended up flying out of the car, falling to his demise.
9. Keep Your Head On Straight
If you see signs that say, “Do Not Enter” and “Danger Zone,” I am warning you now—don’t go there. It probably IS dangerous and you probably SHOULDN’T enter. But don’t take it from me, take it from the 17-year-old who scaled the fence of the Batman coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park. The ride, which loops on the outside of the track, hit this teenager, fully decapitating him.
10. It’ll Knock Your Socks Off
The Superman Tower of Power and similar free-fall, gravity-defying rides are some of the most thrilling. The fear that your lap bar will come off at the top of the ride and send you flying into the air as the ride drops down without you is like no other. However, this is not that story. Rather, one of the most frightening things to happen on a free-fall ride occurred when a cable got wrapped around a girl’s ankles and sliced her feet off as the ride kept going.
11. Wet And Wild
We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a school day trip and your teacher calls out that you have to head home. So you rush to the nearest waterslide with all your closest friends and pile on. In this case, the waterslide was the Banzai Pipeline and it couldn’t take the weight of the many Napa High School students clambering onto the ride back in 1997. Partway down, it collapsed, injuring a number of students. One suffered a crushed chest and didn’t survive.
Just goes to show you, it’s all fun and games until an entire waterslide crushes someone because they ignored the lifeguard’s instructions.
12. That’s Karma
Most parks rate the level of “thrill” for each of their rides. At Australia’s Dreamworld, the Thunder River Rapids earned a “moderate” thrill rating. Well, it turns out, even the less thrilling rides can be as dangerous. When the ride malfunctioned, four people lost their lives in front of horrified onlookers. As one bystander put it, “I’d rather not talk about what I saw.”
13. Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
Never let your guard down at the amusement park. Even seemingly innocent rides like the carousel or Ferris wheel are still giant machines that could malfunction at any moment. Three girls were up high on a Ferris wheel at a Tennessee county fair when the bucket they were in flipped upside down and dumped them onto the ground. A six-year-old who had fallen suffered a traumatic brain injury after the incident.
14. Knock On Wood
Squeak, squeak, rumble, rumble, creeeeak! And so it goes riding on a wooden roller coaster. Riding wooden coasters almost always feels like certain death—and for five children in 1972, it was. Nowadays, a chain commonly pulls the cars to the top. Well, on the Big Dipper at London’s Battersea Park, a simple rope did that job. If you think that doesn’t sound strong enough, you’d be right.
On one tragic day, the rope snapped, sending the car plummeting backward into another car, and costing the lives of four children and injuring 13 others.
15. To The Grave
If your wave pool has the nickname, “The Grave Pool,” you know you’re doing something wrong. So it was at New Jersey’s Action Park, where the massive, unceasing waves, overcrowded pools, and indifferent staff led to countless injuries and several fatalities. But, believe it or not, that wasn’t nearly Action Park’s most dangerous attraction.
16. Buckle Up!
Canada isn’t just beautiful rocky landscapes and friendly folks, they’ve got their fair share of disaster as well. One of the worst amusement park accidents in Canada occurred at none other than the West Edmonton Wall. As the coaster rounded its last loop in 1968, the last car got detached from the rest and derailed, sending it flying towards a cement pillar in the building.
Three riders lost their lives in the incident and 19 others were hurt badly. The issue turned out to be the stuff of nightmares—the car’s wheel assembly was missing several bolts. I wouldn’t use an IKEA bookshelf that was missing pieces, let alone a freaking roller coaster!
17. Safety First
When a 16-year-old girl passed after falling from “Europe’s fastest and wettest watercoaster,” investigators took a look into the park’s safety precautions—and they didn’t like what they found. On the day of the tragedy, employees only checked the safety bar for 12.3% of passengers. This death happened on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, but there is never an excuse for negligence.
18. Slip And Slide Off The Tracks
If you’ve done any research into amusement park accidents, then you’ve heard of Action Park in New Jersey. The park opened in 1978 and closed in 1996 and it was maybe, probably, almost-definitely actively trying to kill guests. The first of many losses there was a 19-year-old employee at the park only two years after its opening.
The weapon that did the deed was the Alpine Slide—a concrete track traversed by a sled. In a truly insane decision, designers made the sled so the riders themselves could control the speed. Accidents quickly became the norm. At best, riders lost some skin. At worst, like in this park employee’s case, their sleds flew straight off the tracks onto the rocks below.
19. Risky Riding
Not only was Alpine Slide Action Park’s most popular ride, but people also thought it was the safest! However, despite the, ahem, sterling reputation, it was also the cause of most lawsuits against the park. Between the years 1984 and 1985 alone, the Alpine Slide caused 26 injuries to guests’ heads and 14 bone fractures. And those were only the serious and reported cases. The actual number was definitely way, way higher.
20. Fire In The Hole
Alpine Slide was not the only slide at Action Park to pick its victims off one at a time. In the Waterworld section of the park, the Cannonball Loop (briefly) cast a terrifying shadow. The slide is rumored to have fully dismembered test dummies and caused many back issues for riders. The slide had a fully enclosed 360-degree loop and after one rider got stuck a hatch had to be installed partway through so it was possible to escape if necessary.
It was only open to the public for about a month before the state shut it down. If it was too gnarly for Action Park, you know it was serious.
21. Sticks And Stones
Amusement park deaths aren’t always as dramatic as you might expect. They can come from surprisingly pleasant situations as well as dangerous thrill rides. One man was floating along with some tropical fish at Discovery Cove in Orlando when he grazed some rocks in the tank. This might’ve been okay—if the rocks didn’t contain living coral that turned his toes purple and sent him into septic shock.
His organs started failing and the hospital removed his legs below the knee, but it was too late. I guess we’re not even fully safe when peacefully swimming with the fishies.
22. When Geese Attack
A classic story of man versus goose. Fabio, the famous model and spokesperson for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!” buckled up for a fast-paced roller coaster publicity stunt. At that moment, an unwitting goose flew in the direction of the coaster. The two collided resulting in the goose’s death and Fabio’s beautiful nose needing stitches.
23. Riding High
It wasn’t only Action Park’s rides that gave it its dark reputation; it was also the employees. Many of the workers at the amusement park were underage and *cough* irresponsible. They knew all the places to hide from their supervisors and, of course, get high on duty. Combine that with some of the most dangerous rides in the history of theme parks, and it was a recipe for disaster.
24. Fly Like A Bird While Flipping The Bird
I don’t even think there are words to express all of the strange, dangerous, messed up things that happened at Action Park in the 80s and 90s. But I will try. The park’s Tarzan Swing, like most of their other rides, was dangerous. Guests would simply swing across stagnant water on a rope and release when they were ready. Wait times were long and everyone in line could see everyone else get up onto the swing and anticipate their own turn.
This is where things go south. Because riders had an audience, they would perform. This included yelling things that I will not repeat here and doing things that cannot be unseen. Clothes were removed, fingers were waved, and I’m sure the young employees did little to stop it. And, of course, there were plenty of examples of people missing the water completely and breaking bones or worse.