July 11th, 2011

Theme Park Death of Double Amputee

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/11/us-theme-park-death-idUSTRE76A64O20110711

Reuters coverage, including Ed Markey weighing in on how theme parks should have federal oversight.

Here is the theme park's web page (I am not familiar with this park, altho that doesn't mean much).

http://godarienlake.com/rides/thrill-rides/

You'll notice that (a) the roller coaster involved is closed and (b) a bunch of the roller coasters specify that riders must have two legs, along with more ordinary requirements like "at least this tall". I'm not familiar with the "upper body control" requirement or the use of at least one hand.

Theme park deaths have some tropes to them. Certain rides seem to expose underlying medical issues (sudden death for no clear reason; lawsuits often follow but may be settled). There used to be a fair number of person-exited-the-ride-in-the-middle deaths, but I think we've gotten better about preventing that. We had a rash of very-heavy-person deaths and injuries, but again, once you see a few of those, ride operators figure out a batch of rules that will prevent repeat incidents.

I don't know that I have a strong opinion about the federal oversight issue. Certainly, it's the kind of thing likely to be on Markey's list (he's very earnest). Certainly, state and local regulatory bodies are often in a weak position to regulate what may well be a powerful component of the local tourist industry. On the other hand, theme parks _really_ can't afford to screw up very often, because this kind of stuff was remembered in some detail _before_ the web, and it's just gotten tougher to sweep it away since then.

This particular incident raises a whole series of fascinating questions: had this guy ridden any other coasters since losing his legs? Have other double-amputees or people with similar physical limitations ridden roller coasters before? Are we truly in new territory here or was there something specific to this guy and/or this coaster?

Just about everything "made" in the world that we're used to encountering was designed with some assumptions about who would use it and how. Coasters are not any different. This is a huge tragedy, and is a big opportunity to learn about a lot of things. I hope we take that opportunity and learn from it in a way that preserves the opportunity of the not-completely-average to have powerful, enjoyable experiences -- while also preserving their health and safety.

ETA: I checked this _after_ writing the above. Should I checked it before. At this time, coverage of the Darien Lake incident is at the top.

http://www.rideaccidents.com/

The ride has some history in the too-big-to-ride years.

ETAYA: Surfing through the 2011 and 2010 suggest that the current big trends include:

(1) Weird plastic balls you climb in side of and roll around in. Just say no. These seem stupid on the face of it and apparently there are less obvious risks as well.

(2) Inflatables. Wow. R. had mentioned coverage of some of the wind problems, but just, wow. Just say no, again.

(3) "Ride passed inspection". Apparently there's a whole lot of paperwork-only inspection going on. And, as usual, movable-rides show up in this list more often than fixed-site rides. I'm not sure if there are just _more_ movable-rides or if movable-rides are tougher to keep up with the maintenance on.