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June 3, 2015

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Rollercoaster crash forces Alton Towers to close

Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers, picture courtesy of @WMAS (West Midlands Ambulance Service)

Smiler rollercoaster at Alton Towers, picture courtesy of @WMAS (West Midlands Ambulance Service)

Two carriages crashed on a rollercoaster ride at Alton Towers yesterday (Tuesday), leaving some passengers trapped for four-and-a-half hours.

The Smiler ride at the theme park in Staffordshire has been closed while an investigation continues into the accident that left four people with serious injuries.

Two men, aged 27 and 18, a woman aged 19 and a girl, 17, suffered serious leg injuries in the crash.

Another 12 people – six men and six women – required medical treatment, including a man in his 20s, who suffered neck and abdominal injuries.

Asked whether human error could be involved, Nick Varney, chief executive of the park’s owners Merlin Entertainments, said it was too early to tell.

“Our business is about giving people memorable experiences with the emphasis on safety and yesterday something dreadful happened,” he said.

“Those two cars should not have been on the same piece of track. Technically that should not have happened.

“There are braking locks that should stop two cars being on the same section of track and somehow that didn’t work the way it was meant to.”

Earlier he said: “This has been a terrible incident and a devastating day for everyone here.

“I would like to express my sincerest regret and apology to everyone who suffered injury and distress and to their families.

“The safety of our visitors is our primary concern. The park will remain closed until we understand better the cause of this dreadful incident.”

The Health and Safety Executive is investigating the crash, which happened at about 14.00 BST when two carriages collided on low section of track.

Visitors reported on social media that the ride had broken down earlier in the day.

The four people who suffered critical injuries were airlifted to major trauma centres after the 16 occupants were rescued from 25ft (7.6m) up in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees.

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokeswoman said that all four were given advanced trauma care and pain relief, with the 27-year-old male airlifted to hospital.

She said the remaining 12 occupants were released one at a time over four hours and lowered to the ground in order for a further assessment of their condition.

The ordeal for some of the 16 occupants lasted more than four hours, with the evacuation not complete until 18:35.

Previous safety concerns

Since opening two years ago, the £18m rollercoaster has been closed on three occasions due to safety concerns.

  • The ride shut for four days in July 2013 after a piece fell off the track, and 48 people had to be rescued.
  • It closed again in August 2013 for five days due to a “technical issue”.
  • In November 2013 it closed for five days after wheels fell off and hit four people in the front carriage. The injured people were looked after by park staff and did not need treatment by the ambulance service, a spokeswoman said at the time.

Previous to this, a group of 16 journalists were stuck on the Smiler rollercoaster at a steep angle as they tried it out before it opened to the public. The ride also ground to a halt at the top of a near vertical section 14 months ago.

Asked about previous problems with the ride, Mr Varney said he thought there was “an awful lot of misreporting going on about that”.

“Guest safety on those sorts of incidents is not really a major issue in the sense that when you are on a rollercoaster car, the car can’t come off the track. When you have a glitch and the ride stops, it’s not really an issue of safety to the riders,” he said.

Customers with tickets for Wednesday can change them to another day or request a refund through the website.

Asked about the closure, Mr Varney said the park would take “a more measured view of what’s going on and whether it was specific to just the Smiler and then take a view about opening Alton Towers.”


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