Friday, December 7, 2018

The Columbia Sailing Ship's Fatal Accident - December 1998



Today's post is another one that can be filed under the heading, "Tragic Kingdom."

Twenty years ago this month, Disneyland's Columbia Sailing Ship was involved in a tragic accident affecting two guests and one cast member. This Los Angeles Times article is from the following day (Christmas Day).


Also mentioned, is a completely separate incident that occurred on the same day. A 4-year old boy fell off of King Arthur's Carousel and ended up in the hospital with a concussion.


This article doesn't mention it, but the man from Duvall, Washington, who was struck in the head was Luan Phi Dawson. Sadly, he was declared brain dead at the hospital and passed away two days later, after being taken off of life support.


This second article (which I believe was from the O.C. Weekly) asks the question, "Did cost-cutting cause Disneyland mishap?" Some Disneyland cast members were reportedly blaming Paul Pressler for the accident. Can we just blame him for everything that was wrong with Disneyland in the 1990's and 2000's?



This Los Angeles Times article is from about a month after the incident:




And this short article was published after the Columbia reopened to the public:


17 comments:

K. Martinez said...

It wasn't just Paul Pressler. I blame Eisner too. It seemed to all go downhill after Frank Wells died. The so called "Disney Decade" (1990's) was probably the worst decade the Disney Parks ever had.

The terrible maintenance and multiple deaths at the park forever tarnished my view of Disney and Disneyland even to this day. I can truly say it was the decade I fell out of love with Disneyland.

And don't forget the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad death that was Disney's fault too. More maintenance and training cutbacks. Pure negligence triggered by greed.

Anyway, thanks for posting the article. It just makes me pissed off all over again with Disney corp.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, I agree with you! I actually think this time period was "the beginning of the end" for the Disney parks....at least the ones here in the U.S. And I saved the articles about the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad accident/death and plan to post them in the future.

Stefano said...

The tens of millions in out-of-court settlements should have come from Michael Eisner's own pockets (he seems to be a forgotten billionaire these days). Instead, management probably raised ticket prices to cover their losses. There's an Aesop's fable here, or the maxim "a ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure".

We are right to be cynical about the new bosses; and even Richard Schickel said that cynical was the last thing you could call Walt Disney. I wonder if the grotesque accretion of Christmas d├ęcor since '98 is partly in reaction to this tragedy.

TokyoMagic! said...

Stefano, you are right about the settlement amount. I read an online article from 2000, that estimated the settlement to be between 20 to 25 million. And now that you mention it, I would be willing to bet money that they raised ticket prices, in direct response, to cover what they had to pay out.

Dean Finder said...

When I first visited WDW as an adult in 2012, I noticed that all of the mooring lines on the boats that take guests back and forth from Downtown Disney to various resorts had tags with dates on them. I assume that all lines are inspected and replaced on a regular basis following the Columbia incident.

TokyoMagic! said...

Dean Finder, that's interesting! I wonder if there is a state agency in Florida that requires Disney to swap out the lines after so much time has passed, or if it is just Disney tagging and dating the lines for their own record keeping?

Major Pepperidge said...

This was definitely smack dab in the middle of those dark “Pressler years”, though as Ken said, Eisner shoulders some of the blame too. Cutting costs to the point that it affects guest safety is just plain stupid, but the Board of Directors was probably so thrilled with the bottom line that they didn’t care. The thing is, cutting costs is easy if you don’t give a crap about the guest experience or safety, which is precisely how Pressler operated. Remember all the articles about peeling paint, rotting wood, and other problems?

As Stefano already suggested, you can bet that Disney passed on the cost of that lawsuit to the guests, so it was painless to the company, except for a bit of embarrassment.

I wonder where Paul Pressler is now? Perhaps retired and resting on a sunny beach somewhere, but I guarantee he never thinks about the lives that his policies snuffed out. (Can you tell that this event made me mad?)

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, those truly were dark years for Disneyland. I had an annual pass during most of the nineties. However, after they got rid of the Skyway in '94, the Main St. Electrical Parade in '96, and completely destroyed Tomorrowland in '98, I was pretty much through with them....for a while anyway. My current pass at that time, expired in November of '98 and I didn't get another pass for seven years. I did go to the park a few times within that period, but not regularly. So, I missed seeing all the peeling paint and crumbling rooftops, but I do remember seeing the pics online. And I read about the fatal accidents that occurred on the Columbia, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Roger Rabbit ride. For shame, Disney! For shame!

Those deaths made me mad too, Major! In the future, I hope that the two people responsible WILL be resting somewhere warm, but not sunny....and not on a beach. I hope they will be resting (to quote a good friend...and he knows who he is...Ken!) in the finale of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

Matthew said...

TokyoMagic! I left the company in November of 1994 shortly 7 months after Frank Wells death. That to me will always be the turning point of the company. I never really knew what "governor" Frank was to Michael until after his death.

Regarding the Columbia Sailing Ship and Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road accidents; having been a host, trainer and working lead on both of these attractions it broke my heart to know that Disney caused these accidents. Until then it seemed most, if not all, of the Guest related deaths were caused by carelessness and horseplay. This was the first time where all fingers pointed to the Walt Disney Company. Thank you for your thorough post about this unfortunate event.

Always your pal,
Amazon Belle

TokyoMagic! said...

Matthew, it makes me wonder what Disneyland would look like today, if Frank Wells had not died. And I'm guessing that those two deaths would not have occurred. It's all very sad.

Anonymous said...

Thinking back to the days when I manned the Columbia...mid 70s...we were well aware...and trained...to consider the speed of the ship as it arrived before putting the rope on the cleat. Sometimes that meant not doing so until the ship backed up to an appropriate position. That was instilled in us..and of course we took it as seriously as management did back then. KS

TokyoMagic! said...

KS, it almost seems like it would just be a common sense thing not to throw the rope around the cleat while the ship is moving. Having said that, it's something that clearly should have been covered in training. The accident could have been avoided, if upper management had not been trying to cut corners on proper training and appropriate staffing.

Anonymous said...

Tokyo...actually it wasn't a requirement for the ship to be totally stopped. More of a judgement thing. But you were to monitor the rope until it stopped which meant that you could remove it while in motion if you deemed it an unsafe speed. KS

TokyoMagic! said...

KS, thanks for that additional information! :-)

A bitter reader said...

Honestly, sometime this is blog is painful to read as much as Cartoon brew. So cranky.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. But maintaining fantasy is serious business. The trick is to keep it behind the scenes. KS

TokyoMagic! said...

Nic Kramer....I mean, "Anonymous"....I'm sorry if my blog is painful for you to read at times, but I do appreciate the fact that you are reading my posts. And I thank you, for that. I try to not have every post be a downer or negative....or even "cranky." In fact, I had to stop and think for a minute about what I've posted recently and although this post was on a serious and tragic subject, I went back through the last 12 months of my posts and realized that all of them were on much happier subjects like, "The Happiest Millionaire," the Mulan Parade, a vintage Disneyland "Trip Report" from 1975, Pirates of the Caribbean model kits, Raging Waters waterpark, Disneyland's 25th Anniversary, Mickey's 50th Birthday, EPCOT's 1982 opening, Southern California attractions (the Queen Mary, Goodyear Blimp and Marineland) and more! I couldn't really find anything negative in any of those blog posts from the last 12 months. I do hope you will continue to follow my blog! Check out my archive of posts and maybe you can find others that aren't as painful of a read.