Alton Towers Pleads Guilty to The Smiler Roller Coaster Accident – Photos Released
The famed Smiler roller coaster at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England is the current Guinness World Record holder for most inversions on a roller coaster (14).
On June 2nd 2015, two trains collided on The Smiler roller coaster in the UK at Alton Towers theme park leaving 16 injured including 5 in serious condition. The aftermath of the incident caused Alton Towers to remain closed for several days forcing the park to turn away tens of thousands of visitors. While the investigation was underway of what went wrong, the park, owned by Merlin Entertainment, also shut down operations of similar coasters at their other parks that were manufactured by Gerstlauer – the same manufacturer of the smiler.
This news sent a shock throughout the entire amusement park industry and left everyone scratching their heads wondering how this could of even happened. Statistically, roller coasters are one of the safest activities you can participate in thanks to all of the safety inspections and high standards theme park operators are held to, resulting in a very low number of incidents each summer season throughout the world. But obviously something went very wrong that day. The ride was said to have shut down for some kind of issue and the crew sent out an empty train for a test run. Ride operators then followed it with another train loaded with 16 guests, unaware that the empty train had stalled or valleyed somewhere on the course. The full train smashed into the one stalled on the track at about 50 mph. Rescue crews worked for hours to get everyone removed from the ride.
The video below shows the coaster train just moments after the initial crash occurred. What you are seeing is the full train stuck together with the empty train valley-ing back and forth before it stopped. It looks like one coaster rocking back and forth but it is actually the two coasters stuck together after the initial hit. Each coaster had 4 rows of seats, 4 across. The gentlemen in the blue shirt you see marks the front of the second train. It is completely smashed up against the train in front of it.
While luckily there no fatalities, the lives of all of those on board were changed forever. On this day, the lucky folks riding in the front car were’t so lucky after all.. Two young ladies Vicky Balch (19) & Leah Washington (17) suffered leg amputations from the injuries. Daniel Thorpe (27) suffered a broken leg and a punctured lung while Joe Pugh (18) suffered shattered knees.
Over the course of the next few months Merlin Attractions slowly started to reopen the coasters they had closed at their other parks. The Smiler remained closed and little information was released from the investigation while many of the injured passengers continued months of extensive rehab.
In August news came out that two employees were being investigated in the possibility of human error causing the crash. After months of further investigation, no fault was found with the coaster itself. It was determined that the coaster did exactly what it was supposed to do. It stopped a train on the lift hill when it sensed another train stalled further out of sight on the track. Employees then overrode the computer and sent the train anyways, making this accident human error. below is an animated demonstration of the accident.
In November 2015, Alton Towers released a statement admitting the crash was human error:
“The investigation concluded that the incident was the result of human error culminating in the manual override of the ride safety control system without the appropriate protocols being followed. The investigation also identified areas where protocols and the training of employees should be improved. There were found to be no technical or mechanical problems with the ride itself.”
“We have taken full responsibility for the incident and continue to co-operate with the on-going Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation.”
Over the winter the park made several safety improvements to ensure this accident could never happen again. After vigorous testing, Alton Towers re-opened The Smiler to the public on March 19 2016.
Knowing this coaster was operating again didn’t set well with the passengers that were involved in the accident. On April 12th Vicky Balch did an interview on Good Morning Britain where she talked about the ride re-opening, the accident, her recovery, and her new bionic leg.
On April 22nd 2016, Alton Towers owners Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd appeared at North Staffordshire Justice Centre for their trial and pleaded… GUILTY. With The Health & Safety Executive representatives and the victims and their families in attendance, District Judge Jack McGarva chose to send the case to a higher court for sentencing. That will occur May 20th, at Stafford Crown Court.
After the plea was announced Merlin Attractions released a short statement:
“Merlin Attractions Operations Limited today pleaded guilty to an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act. From the outset, the company has accepted responsibility for what happened in June last year and it has co-operated fully with the Health & Safety Executive in its investigation. We have sought to provide help and support to all those injured in the accident and will continue to do so”.
Finally representatives of the victims gave their statement – saying the guilty plea is a step on their road to recovery:
“Given that such serious injuries could be sustained on a fun day out, it is hardly surprising that a criminal offence was committed. However, it is comforting for the families that a plea of guilty has been entered rather than the victims having to endure a drawn out trial.”
“Today is not seen as a victory; the families are not motivated by retribution, but inevitably this guilty plea will be a milestone along the way to psychological rehabilitation.”
“Regrettably the physical recovery will be a lifelong process.”
Confirming Human error was the cause, Health and Safety Executive prosecutor Brendan Thorogood told the court the following:
“There wasn’t a system staff should should have had to follow. They overrode a computer controlled stop on the system and sent the train with some of those people here today around the ride. As a result those in the train came into collision with the stationary train.”
After court HSE Neil Craig went on to say:
“Merlin have acknowledged they failed in their legal duty to protect people on The Smiler ride. The incident was profoundly distressing for all those involved. It left some with life changing injuries. We hope this is the first step in helping those affected in their recovery going forward.”
The Health and Safety Laboratory also released some chilling images showing the smashed front carriage of coaster following the crash. The photographs show how the devastating impact pushed the front bumper of the carriage up against the seats where the riders legs would have been.
All of us here at Coaster Nation continue to have the victims and their families in our thoughts and wish them a speedy recovery so they can move on with their lives.
We continue to encourage everyone to visit and support your local amusement parks. High tech computer safety systems on roller coasters are designed to prevent incidents such as this from happening. While it’s unfortunate that this did happen, there is no doubt the entire industry has learned of the potential of the human override and have since made corrections to their own systems to prevent this from happening all over again.
The chance of a fatal injury at a theme park is one in 1.5 billion [Source: CPSC]. By comparison, the chance of fatal injury in a car crash is almost 15 in 10,000 [Source: U.S. Department of Transportation]. You’re about twice as likely to suffer a shark attack as you are to sustain an injury at a theme park requiring a hospital stay. With that said, we still say theme park rides are incredibly safe.
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