Nearly two dozen riders of a roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain got more thrills than they were expecting on Monday when a tree branch obstructed the track at the Southern California amusement park, dislodging part of the train. It took three hours for crews to evacuate all 22 passengers off the suspended Ninja coaster.
Four riders were injured when the ride came to a screeching halt, but all of the injuries were deemed initially minor. It could've been catastrophic -- especially with one of the cars perilously hanging off of the track.
The accident took place after the market close on Monday, but shares of Six Flags (SIX) dipped a mere 0.2 percent on Tuesday -- considerably better than the overall market's decline that day. Wall Street either didn't make the connection or figured that Six Flags isn't likely to suffer any attendance declines as a result of the incident.
It's early in the busy season for regional amusement park operators, but there have already been plenty of cases of popular coasters being temporarily stalled due to mechanical breakdowns. Evacuations using cherry pickers with folks shuttled off to hospitals as a precaution are rare -- and this may be the first tree-related incident resulting in a partial derailing -- but setbacks happen.
As a park-goer or an investor in Six Flags, Cedar Fair (FUN) or even Disney (DIS), this doesn't mean that it's time to worry. There are risks involved in every kind of social outing, and the occasional accident on a roller coaster shouldn't be a deciding factor in whether you let your children on the rides or decide to hold back on your own white-knuckled pursuits.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The Los Angeles Times recently analyzed the more than 2,000 incidents across Southern California theme parks since 2007. It found that most mishaps involved guests fainting or suffering from nausea or dizziness. One out of every eight accidents took place when riders were boarding or getting off the ride vehicle. Mechanical breakdowns resulting in catastrophic injuries are thankfully rare. Amusement parks wouldn't keep operating if they weren't.
Amusement parks accidents are uncommon, and they're becoming rarer despite the never-ending push for thrill rides that go faster and drop farther than ever before. The National Safety Council's Research & Statistical Services Group found that just 4.3 people out of every million park visitors got injured in 2011, sharply lower than the 8.2 per million who were injured a decade earlier.
In short, accidents can and will happen, but if you follow safety guidelines and make sure that you are in good condition to ride, the odds are clearly in your favor to have a good time instead of making tragic headlines.
The Darker Side of Coasters
Fatal accidents on roller coasters are rare, and often involve reckless actions on behalf of park guests or park employees. Let's take a look at some recent deaths.
2013, Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. The restraint on a rider became undone, sending the 52-year-old woman falling off the steel hybrid coaster to her death. Witnesses reported that the woman voiced her concerns about the restraint bar not lowering properly because she was overweight. Many rides have sample seats outside of the ride so petite or large riders can test the restraint system.
2012, Vampire at La Ronde. A 67-year-old maintenance man died after being struck by the inverted steel coaster at the Montreal amusement park owned by Six Flags. Reports indicate that he entered a restricted area beneath the track, but failed to notify the ride operators that he was going to be there.
2011, Ride of Steel at Darien Lake. A 29-year-old Iraq war veteran died after falling from the front seat of the steel coaster in New York. He had lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq three years earlier, which likely contributed to the ineffectiveness of the safety restraints in keeping him secure.
2008, Batman at Six Flags Over Georgia. A 17-year-old died after being struck by the coaster. He had scaled two 6-foot-tall fences to enter a restricted area. Some witnesses claimed that he had entered the area marked as "Danger Zone" with "Do Not Enter" warnings to retrieve an item that he had lost on the ride.