Roller coasters are designed to be fun, and for the most part, they’re precisely that. However, by their very twisty-turny nature, they require a whole lot of safety measures to keep their passengers from succumbing to the laws of physics with bone-breaking results. Unfortunately, these precautions don’t always work, and that’s when dramatic, lethal accidents happen. These 10 roller coaster accidents are some of the most shocking in history.
10. The preventable Treetop Twister accident
In 2001, something went very, very wrong with the Treetop Twister roller coaster at the Lightwater Valley theme park in North Yorkshire, UK. What’s more, it could quite likely have been prevented if the staff would just have done the right thing. The Twister had only been open for a month when it fatally malfunctioned and a car stopped automatically because the one in front of it hadn’t properly reached the top of a U-shaped turn. At this point, the electrician handling the ride used the manual controls to deal with the situation, but since no one had pressed the “emergency stop” button, his actions were catastrophic.
The stopped car was released, and careened downhill before the other car was out of the way. The two cars collided and the unfortunate failed car was set “rolling backwards” once more — at which point, it collided with the car that was coming behind it at what was described to be “maximum impact speed.” One of the passengers of the twice collided cart received such severe head and neck injuries that she died the following day.
9. The Quimera triple-loop coaster derailing
In 2019, the worst fear of any amusement park visitor became reality for four people in Mexico City’s La Feria de Chapultepec park, which was home to the popular Quimera triple-loop roller coaster that was built in 1984 and can reach speeds of nearly 53 miles per hour.
The fun ride unexpectedly became an instrument of utter terror when the last cart fell off the rails, causing the cart and its four unfortunate riders to plummet 30 feet to the ground. Two young men aged 18 and 21 died on impact, and two female passengers received critical injuries. This being the age of mobile phones, the moment of the incident was captured on video, but fortunately, it doesn’t appear to show anything too gruesome.
8. The Fujin incident in Japan
In 2007, the Expoland amusement park in Suita, Japan’s Osaka Prefecture, witnessed a terrible tragedy when a wheel axle broke from the second car of its Fujin Raijin II roller coaster. This happened just before the train was about to enter a circular section of the course, and the results were disastrous: The train dragged on for almost 1,000 feet before finally grinding to a halt, and the malfunctioning second car dragged to the left of the track. This caused it to hit the guardrail, which instantly killed the woman riding it. As a small consolation, she was the only fatality of the incident, but all 19 of the other passengers received injuries as well.
It was later discovered that the broken axle was not among the parts of the coaster that are regularly inspected, and the park’s operator admitted that it had not been replaced since the coaster’s debut in 1992. Park visitors who had been on the ride just minutes before the incident say they had noticed that the coaster seemed to behave more violently than usual.
7. The Wild Wonder accident
The year 1999 was a pretty bad year for the amusement park business. Multiple people were killed, injured or severely inconvenienced by assorted ride mishaps, ranging from people wiggling out of their safety harnesses to one roller coaster in the Six Flags Marine World of Vallejo, California stranding its passengers for four hours when it suddenly stopped working. However, none of the incidents were more tragic than the one where the Wild Wonder roller coaster sent one of its cars careening into another in front of horrified onlookers.
The accident happened when a two-person car that had already started its ride suddenly and unexpectedly went on reverse, sped back down and smashed into the car waiting to begin its own ride. The crash killed two people — a 8-year-old girl and her mother — and injured a further two.
6. Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad accident
The Big Thunder Mountain railroad at Anaheim’s Disneyland is an absolute classic, but for one group of park visitors in 2003, it was the setting of a horror movie when the train was suddenly disconnected from its locomotive in the middle of a dark tunnel. The locomotive got derailed and the cars eventually came to a halt, and as guests exited from the cars and ran to get help, it became evident that some people were gravely injured in the violent disturbance.
One poor passenger who had been in the front car died and had to be dislodged from his car by emergency workers, and at least one other visitor suffered “facial cuts and chest injuries, including possible broken ribs.” In total, 10 people received injuries… and everyone was stuck in the dark cavern for an hour before they could be safely removed.
5. The Mindbender mall roller coaster accident
The Mindbender was a Canadian mall roller coaster that malfunctioned terribly in 1986, killing three people in the process. The supposedly ultra-secure coaster was the pride and glory of the Fantasyland indoor amusement park at the West Edmonton Mall — until its last car derailed and left the coaster stuck in the middle of a loop, with some of the riders left hanging upside down. Still, they were lucky compared to the four people in the derailed car, which hurtled at a pillar at 63 miles per hour, and sent the four people in it flying to the concrete floor.
Only one of the fateful car’s four passengers survived, and even he sustained terrifying injuries, “shattering” his lower legs and breaking his shoulder, feet, pelvis, lower back and “every single rib on his left side.” He has been dependent on prescription painkillers (and later medical marijuana) ever since — and it doesn’t exactly help his mood that the three people who died were all his dear friends. The Mindbender’s malfunction was blamed on the manufacturer, and after a year of updating its security measures, the coaster resumed its duties.
4. The killer coaster of Lagoon Amusement Park
The wooden roller coaster of Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah was either haunted or just incredibly unlucky. Between 1934 and 1989, the coaster was the scene of no less than three fatal accidents, and strangely, none of them were direct results of a dramatic malfunction… as far as we know.
The coaster claimed its first victim in 1934, when a 20-year-old man attempted to stand in a car while it climbed the ride’s tallest hill, and promptly (but briefly) found out why this is a bad idea, hitting several crossbeams of the ride’s framework as he fell. In 1946, A 23-year-old man was killed when he was working on the coaster’s scaffolding. He was apparently doing this while the coaster was operational, seeing as he was struck by a car. Finally, in 1989, a 13-year-old girl fell from a car after apparently trying to stand up, falling 35 feet to her untimely end as a result.
3. The 1930 Big Dipper disaster
The deadliest roller coaster accident in the history of the United States happened in 1930. The popular Krug Park in Omaha, Nebraska had a star attraction called Big Dipper, which dominated the silhouette of the park — which itself was Omaha’s hottest amusement spot.
The reputation of both the park and its famed coaster received a horrid blow when the coaster straight up broke and fell to the ground. The 35-foot drop killed four passengers and injured a further 17, and sent Krug Park in a freefall it would never recover from. By 1940, the once-popular park was forced to close its doors.
2. The 1972 Big Dipper disaster
Yes, there’s another Big Dipper incident on the list, and the sequel is somehow even worse than its predecessor, to the point that it’s considered the worst roller coaster tragedy in history. Of course, this wasn’t the same Big Dipper — this one was located at south London’s Battersea Park.
In 1972, one of the wooden three-car trains on the Battersea Park Big Dipper ride suddenly detached from the drive train connecting it to the track, went haywire and partially derailed. One of the carriages fell off the cart, hanging precariously off the side of the ride as passengers held on for dear life. Some of the people trying to get off the stuck carts fell down when the bannisters they held onto gave way, and survivors describe the carnage by saying that there was an actual “pool of blood” under the tracks. The accident killed five children, injured a further 16 people, and left some of the survivors struggling with PTSD.
1. Rough Riders lived up to its name
There have been literally dozens of roller coasters on Coney Island over the years, but only one of them has been so ridiculously fatal that it gets the number one spot over the most deadly roller coaster accidents in history. That dubious honor goes to Rough Riders, a 3rd rail electric coaster that operated from 1907 to 1915, and managed to kill six people during those eight short years.
The Rough Riders cars had no brakemen. Instead, they were operated by a special “motorman,” who could accelerate the cars as desired, laying off the throttle when needed. This meant that a reckless motorman could easily take the turns too fast, which was a recipe for not just one but two disasters. In 1910, two cars overturned because of the actions of an overzealous motorman. They fell off the track at the top of the coaster’s 60-foot peak, sending 17 people plummeting into the ground below. Somehow, only three of them died. In 1915, another train went off the rails in a very similar incident, killing the motorman and two passengers.