Two Disneyland tourists were critically injured and a worker was severely hurt Thursday at one of the park’s oldest and tamest rides when a heavy piece of metal was ripped from the Columbia sailing ship and hit the visitors in the face.
The 10:40 a.m. accident occurred as the park was packed with Christmas Eve visitors.
As the tall ship was docking after one of its slow excursions around the Rivers of America attraction, a line was cast around the hull’s metal cleat to secure it to the dock, according to witnesses and Disneyland officials. But when the rope pulled tight, it yanked the cleat backward off the boat and into two people waiting to board the ride, they said.
“The cleat just became a projectile,” said one Disneyland employee, who asked to remain anonymous. “It just shot through the air and hit two guests in the head as they were standing in the waiting area.”
The injured visitors were described by authorities as a 34-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman from Duvall, Wash., outside Seattle.
One park visitor said the man’s face was bloody and appeared to be severely disfigured.
“When we walked up, people were saying ‘Call 911! Call 911!’ I called on my cell phone,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
Also injured was a 30-year-old Disneyland employee on the dock, identified as Christine Carpenter of Anaheim. She was taken to Western Medical Center-Anaheim, where nursing supervisor Victoria Amidon said she was in stable condition with major injuries to her left foot and ankle. She underwent surgery late Thursday.
The injured visitors were listed in critical condition with severe head injuries at UC Irvine Medical Center, spokeswoman Kim Pine said. They were being given CAT scans and appeared to have suffered hemorrhaging in the brain, she said.
Hospital officials declined to release further information about them.
Later in the day, a sign posted at the entrance of the ride said it was closed because of “river construction.” Disneyland remained open and heavy holiday crowds continued to throng into the park.
Disneyland officials released few details about the incident, but confirmed details provided by park visitors who were at the scene.
In a separate incident at Disneyland on Thursday, a 4-year-old boy suffered a concussion when he fell off the carousel. He was hospitalized at UC Irvine Medical Center, where doctors said the boy was expected to recover. His condition was upgraded from serious to fair late in the day.
After the Columbia incident, Cal/OSHA immediately sent investigators to the scene, where park security guards struggled to keep a crowd of curious visitors out of the area.
“There was lots of blood,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous.
Some fellow workers were so upset that they needed medical attention, she said.
The Columbia, built soon after the park’s opening in 1955, is fashioned after an 18th century sailing ship.
It was unclear why the cleat, used to tether the boat to the dock, tore from the aging ship. No authorities Thursday were blaming the accident on bad equipment or lack of maintenance.
But some Disney employees say the boat is showing its age.
“The wood’s just not good,” one Disneyland worker, who asked not to be named, said Thursday. “There are a lot of holes, and they keep patching them up. But the boat’s not in good shape.”
The employee said the Columbia, which rides on an underwater track, was pulling up to the dock when a worker attached a bowline to the foot-long cleat. The cleat and the metal plate it sits on are attached to the hull of the ship by four bolts.
If there’s a problem, the 10-foot line is supposed to break to keep the boat from being jolted, according to the employee, but that didn’t happen this time. Instead, said the employee, the cleat and the metal plate broke loose.
Maintenance at the park has drawn criticism in the past few years from some frequent park visitors and employees. But Disneyland officials say the park is well maintained.
A move to have most maintenance work done on the overnight shift, later modified, was unpopular with employees. And while park officials deny that significant cuts have been made, longtime observers like author David Koenig, author of the critical book “Mouse Tales: A Behind the Ears Look at Disneyland,” say repair work has clearly suffered in recent years.
“Things that once were done on a daily basis are now being done a couple of times a week,” Koenig said Thursday. “And weekly stuff may be done every month, what with the cuts in maintenance.”
Judson Green, the head of Walt Disney Co.'s theme park and resorts division, said earlier this week that he is proud of the maintenance team at Disneyland, which he believed had made improvements recently.
“When we see something that needs addressing, we address it,” he said. “There’s nothing we can’t fix.”
Times staff writers Jeff Gottlieb, Bonnie Hayes, Deborah Schoch, Esther Schrader, Ray Tessler, Phil Willon and Daniel Yi and correspondents Jason Kandel and Harrison Sheppard contributed to this story.
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Disney Ride Accident
Two Disneyland visitors and an employee were seriously injured Thursday when a rope cleat pulled loose from the Columbia as the tall ship docked.
As boat docks, employee hooks rope onto cleat.
Rope pulls cleat off boat; employee’s foot is injured.
Cleat snaps backward into crowd, striking two visitors’ faces.
Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD/Los Angeles Times
Source: Ray Gomez, Disneyland