If you ask the people who run theme parks across the world, they’ll probably tell you that safety is their top priority. While millions of people ride roller coasters and other attractions every day without any incidents, just a single mishap can destroy an entire park’s reputation forever.
With all the laws and regulations that are in place for theme park safety, instances of rides seriously injuring people because of issues with their equipment are, thankfully, relatively rare — but there have been some cases over the years of rides being closed after terrible mishaps. We’ve rounded up some of the rides that were deemed so dangerous they had to be closed forever and also five rides that led to riders’ injuries or deaths but are still in operation today.
Did you ever ride any of these?
Thunder River Rapids Ride
Park: Dreamworld (Queensland, Australia)
Even rides with a long track record of being safe — and even a reputation for being tame — can turn deadly when something goes wrong. That’s what happened in Oct. 2016 at Australia’s Dreamworld when four people were killed while riding the Thunder River Rapids Ride, a typical water ride that had been running since 1986. A freak occurrence saw the ride vehicle the victims were on flip over while on a conveyor belt, leaving them trapped under water and caught in the machinery. The ride was permanently closed as a result, despite having had a stellar safety record beforehand.
Son Of Beast
Park: Kings Island (Mason, Ohio)
This is a ride that has taken on near-mythical status among roller coaster enthusiasts since its closure in 2009. Son of Beast — a sequel to Kings Island’s legendary wooden coaster The Beast — was the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, and also the only one with a loop, when it opened in 2000. However, all that power came at a price and several riders were hurt on Son of Beast, including 27 people in 2006 when a beam cracked during a ride. The ride was closed for good after a woman claimed she’d suffered a burst blood vessel in her brain because of the notoriously bumpy coaster.
Park: Schlitterbahn Waterpark Kansas City (Kansas City, Kansas)
What could go wrong on a waterslide that’s taller than Niagara Falls? In 2016, park officials at Kansas City’s Schlitterbahn Waterpark announced they would demolish the record-breaking, 168-foot-tall Verrückt waterslide after it caused a boy’s gruesome death. The slide had only been open since 2014 and met its end after a 10-year-old rider was reportedly decapitated when he was ejected from the raft he was on and hit an overhanging structure. Riders reached speeds of 70 miles per hour on the slide.
Park: Battersea Park Fun Fair (London, England)
One of the worst roller coaster disasters in history happened at London’s Battersea Park in 1972. Five children were killed on the Big Dipper when a malfunction caused a train to roll backward down a hill, leading to its derailment. The ride had been in operation since 1951 and was reportedly the most popular ride at Battersea Park. The entire theme park area would end up shutting down shortly after the incident, which had led to the permanent closure of the Big Dipper.
Park: Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin)
There are dozens of these Catapult rides — which see two brave riders strapped into a ball-shaped vehicle and launched into the air while tethered to metal cables — at theme parks across the United States, but one in Wisconsin was shut down after a scary incident. In 2015, video of a 13-year-old boy and a woman preparing to ride the Catapult at Mt. Olympus Water & Theme Park went viral. The clip showed one of the cables snapping before the ride was launched. Luckily, no one was hurt, but the incident led to the ride’s closure.
Park: Luna Park Sydney (New South Wales, Australia)
Sometimes a ride isn’t just closed because of a tragic incident. Sometimes, it’s completely destroyed by the incident itself. This was the case of the Ghost Train at Australia’s Luna Park, which had been a popular ride for nearly 50 years. In 1979, the ride became a deathtrap when a fire broke out. The bodies of seven riders were later found in the remains. The fire’s cause remains a mystery but it was thought to be caused by bad wiring.
Park: Playland (Rye, New York)
The Scrambler is a classic thrill ride that operates at countless parks and fairs around the world, but this version of the ride proved to be deadly on two occasions. The Mind Scrambler operated inside a dark tent at New York’s Playland and killed two riders in the span of three years. In 2004, a 7-year-old girl was killed when she slipped out of the ride’s restraints. Then, in 2007, a 21-year-old woman was killed when she was allowed to ride the Mind Scrambler without being buckled in, resulting in her being thrown from the ride. The ride closed for good after that last incident.
Park: Kings Island (Mason, Ohio)
This ride actually remained open for a few years after someone was killed on it before finally being closed. Kings Island’s Flight Commander was basically an extreme version of the classic Swings ride, a version of which is shown below, suspending riders in the air and swinging them in a circle. People on this ride were able to control the intensity and patterns of their ride themselves, using a joystick. In 1991, just a year after it had opened, a 32-year-old woman fell to her death from the ride. It remained open until 1995 before being shut down.
Park: Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida)
Many people likely remember this ride as Dueling Dragons, which is what it was called from its opening in 1999 until 2010. This impressive, inverted steel coaster had two different tracks that ran close together, leading to many close encounters between riders on the different trains as the two tracks “dueled.” This unique design led to safety issues and the injuries of several riders over the years, including one person who lost an eye because of the ride. The dueling feature was disabled in 2011 and the ride was eventually shut down completely in 2017.
Park: Revere Beach (Revere, Massachusetts)
As you’d probably expect, early roller coasters were even more dangerous than the ones running today, thanks to poor technology and relaxed safety standards. The Derby Racer, which ran on Massachusetts’ historic Revere Beach for 25 years, was a prime example of this. It’s been reported that many riders were injured over the years — and several were killed — including a man who sued the operators, taking them all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1935, a year before the ride closed for good.
Park: Action Park (Vernon, New Jersey)
When it comes to dangerous attractions, New Jersey’s now-defunct Action Park is as legendary as it gets. Nicknamed “Class-Action Park,” this place was full of questionable rides that resulted in multiple deaths and countless injuries over the years. The Cannonball Loop, a waterslide that featured a vertical loop, was a classic example. No serious injuries were suffered in it, but the ride was deemed so dangerous that it was only open for a single month in 1985 before closing for good. Just watching the video of people riding it makes me feel claustrophobic!
Park: Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio)
VertiGo, located at Ohio’s Cedar Point, was one of the few rides on this list to be demolished before anyone could get hurt. In January 2002, less than six months after the opening of this thrill ride, which was similar to a catapult-type ride, one of its towers snapped, sending 200 feet of steel crashing to the ground. No one was on the ride at the time and no one was injured in the incident, but park officials decided to shut the new ride down because they thought guests would likely be too scared to ride it in the future.
Park: Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California)
This was another ride that stayed open for a while despite killing a rider early on in its existence. The Perilous Plunge at California’s Knott’s Berry Farm was an intense water ride that saw riders take a 115-foot drop in a boat. The ride opened in 2000 and a rider was killed in 2001 after she slipped out of the restraints and fell from the vehicle. After a short closure and redesign, Perilous Plunge went on to run until 2012, when it was closed permanently.
Park: Middlemoor Water Park (Somerset, England)
This one proves that some people will do anything for a thrilling experience. In 2002, a 19-year-old college student in England was killed during a mishap with an attraction at Middlemoor Water Park that used a medieval-style trebuchet, similar to the one shown below, to fling people into a safety net at about $50 a ride. The insane thrill ride had apparently broken a woman’s pelvis in 2000 before it eventually killed the later rider, who missed the net after his launch. The designers were taken to court but were found not to be responsible for the man’s death.
Park: California’s Great America (Santa Clara, California)
There’s actually still a version of this classic roller coaster running at Six Flags Great America in Illinois, but the one in California was shut down in 1988 after several dangerous incidents. A common problem with Willard’s Whizzer, which opened in 1976, was that its trains would sometimes collide at the loading area because of a problem with the braking system. In 1980, a 13-year-old boy was killed while boarding the ride when another train collided with his. In 1982, 16 riders were injured when a similar incident occurred.
Park: Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
Like the ill-fated Ghost Train at Australia’s Luna Park, the Haunted Castle at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure was a tragedy waiting to happen. This popular dark ride was open for six years before a massive fire engulfed it in 1984, killing eight teenagers who were on board. It later turned out that there were countless fire hazards in the 17 linked trailers that made up the ride, including the fact that there wasn’t a single smoke detector. The fire was blamed on a malfunctioning strobe light.
Fujin Raijin II
Park: Expoland (Suita, Japan)
Expoland had been a popular theme park in Japan since it opened in 1972 — and the Fujin Raijin II was one of its most popular attractions from 1992 to 2007, when its story ended in tragedy. The ride, which was a steel coaster that saw the riders standing during its run, killed a 19-year-old woman and injured 19 others when it derailed after a wheel axle broke. When investigators looked into the crash, they found out that the axles hadn’t been replaced in the 15 years it had been open and that they hadn’t been serviced in more than a year. The ride closed after the crash and the entire park shuttered two years later.
The Kayak Experience
Park: Action Park (Jackson, New Jersey)
Another one of Action Park’s notorious rides, The Kayak Experience was exactly what it sounds like: a water ride that allowed people to kayak through rough waters. In 1982, the ride was closed permanently after it killed a 27-year-old rider and injured two others. The victim had a heart attack after being electrocuted by the underwater fans that simulated the rapids. Minor electrocutions and near-drownings were apparently common on the ride during its short existence.
Park: Daytona Beach (Daytona Beach, Florida)
On Daytona Beach’s boardwalk, the Sand Blaster was a popular attraction for about five years, despite a dodgy record of safety issues. This roller coaster failed several inspections and was closed numerous times for issues like electrical problems and damaged structural pieces. In 2018, the ride was finally shut down after 10 people were injured when the train derailed, sending two riders falling to the ground.
Park: Eco-Adventure Valley (Shenzhen, China)
One of the worst ride accidents in recent memory happened at a Chinese theme park in 2010. Space Journey, a ride that had only been open since 2009, promised to simulate a rocket launch by spinning riders at intense speeds in four-person cars, all inside a massive dome that kept things dark. The ride killed six people and hurt 10 others when it crashed in a way that was never fully explained by park officials.
Still Running — Mission: Space
Park: Epcot (Orlando, Florida)
For running some of the world’s most crowded theme parks, Disney has a pretty stellar track record for safety. Mission: Space, at Walt Disney World’s Epcot park, is one of the company’s few rides that has resulted in the deaths of multiple people.
The ride, which simulates a space flight and all the massive g-force that goes with it, opened in 2003 and saw two riders die in separate incidents in its first three years. Both riders, a boy and a woman, had preexisting medical conditions that contributed to their deaths, leading Disney to offer a milder version of the ride for people who couldn’t handle the normal one.
Still Running — Mindbender
Park: Galaxyland (Edmonton, Alberta)
One of the most unique rides in the world, Canada’s Mindbender is housed inside the all-indoor theme park, Galaxyland. Just three months after it opened in 1986, this massive steel roller coaster was responsible for a terrible tragedy when three riders were killed and 20 others were hurt. One of the cars derailed, hit a pillar and sent four riders flying to the concrete floor underneath. Since then, the ride has remained Galaxyland’s signature attraction, even winning several awards for its stellar safety record.
Still Running — The Smiler
Park: Alton Towers (Staffordshire, England)
England’s record-breaking inverted coaster, The Smiler, is still a popular attraction at Alton Towers, despite several well-documented safety issues. Breakdowns have reportedly been frequent since it opened in 2013 but the most terrible moment in its history came in 2015, when a full train slammed into an empty one that was stuck on the track, severely injuring several riders. That crash was ruled to be the fault of operators, who ignored safety warnings and ran the ride despite high winds that should’ve closed it.
Still Running — Xcelerator
Park: Knott’s Berry Farm (Buena Park, California)
Since opening in 2002, Xcelerator has been one of the signature rides at Knott’s Berry Farm. The steel coaster, which uses a hydraulic launch system to take off, has had numerous safety issues, including one that led to a lawsuit in 2009. That year, two riders were hurt when a launch cable snapped. Investigators found that the ride had been overdue for its six-month inspection, meaning the accident could have been prevented with routine maintenance.
Still Running — Roaring Rapids
Park: Six Flags Over Texas (Dallas, Texas)
Similar to the doomed Thunder River Rapids Ride in Australia, this water ride at Six Flags Over Texas isn’t known for being particularly intense, but it did kill a rider. Roaring Rapids has been a staple of the park since 1983 and even kept running after a woman was killed while riding it in 1999. The woman drowned when she was pinned beneath an overturned raft, which also injured 10 other riders. The same ride also runs at two other Six Flags parks.