Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Tragic Kingdom - A Death On Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain

Today, we have another post that can be filed under the heading of, "Tragic Kingdom."

Twenty years ago today, a fatal accident occurred on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction.  It was the tenth death in the park's history, and the second in only five years, following an accident in 1998, involving the Columbia Sailing Ship.

Ten other passengers aboard Big Thunder were injured, with nine of them being transferred to local hospitals.

The timeline given below has to be wrong, because if the passengers boarded the ride "about 11 a.m.", it wouldn't have taken 20 minutes for them to reach the second lift, where the passenger cars detached from the engine.

The section labeled, "Accidents Since 1997" (above), reveals just how many incidents had occurred at the park, within only a six-year period.  However, it fails to mention the 6-year old girl who lost two-thirds of her index finger, after getting it caught on a rifle on Tom Sawyer Island (in January of 2001).  It also does not mention the 4-year old boy, who fell off of King Arthur's Carousel, and ended up in the hospital with a concussion.  That accident occurred on the same day as the Columbia incident.  And that last accident listed, mentioning a "double-deck boat" tipping over, is referring to the Mike Fink Keel Boats.  Unfortunately, that attraction never reopened after that incident.

Following this accident, and the one involving the Columbia, there was a lot of finger-pointing at park management, accusing them of making cutbacks to proper employee training and attraction maintenance.  According to Wikipedia, "The cause of the (Big Thunder) accident was determined to be improper maintenance.  Investigation reports and discovery by the victim's attorney, confirmed the fatal injuries occurred when the first passenger car collided with the underside of the locomotive.  The derailment was the result of a mechanical failure, which occurred due to omissions during a maintenance procedure."

For further information on the accident, and the legal settlements that followed, here is an article which also mentions how park management admitted to incorrectly performing maintenance on the attraction.

Incidentally, Cynthia Harriss resigned from her role as President of the Disneyland Resort, just one month after the Big Thunder accident.  The next year, she followed in the footsteps of former chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Paul Pressler, and took a job working for The Gap.  I wonder if she ever gave couch-painting lessons to The Gap employees (as she had done once, during a Disney cast member party).