Disney Again Faulted in Ride Accident

Times Staff Writer

State investigators said Friday that mistakes by an inexperienced ride operator and a software glitch contributed to an accident last month -- the third in less than a year -- on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

The report from the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health concluded that the unnamed ride operator had been on the job just three days when he performed procedures out of sequence July 8, causing two trains to collide as one returned to the station. Five people suffered minor injuries.

The first accident occurred last September when a car derailed, killing one person and injuring 10 others; the second was in April when two empty cars crashed during a test run. In all three cases, the state faulted the park and ordered retraining.


Friday’s report did not address the question of whether the ride has an ongoing problem. But Susan Gard, a spokeswoman for the state agency, said investigators considered the ride’s recent history.

Unlike in the fatal accident, the employee this time was properly trained and the procedures were proper, she said. In the amusement park business, as in any other, “there is always going to be the possibility that a mistake can be made,” Gard said.

Disneyland officials said they agree with the report and have taken the action required by the state, which included retraining the operator at fault and fixing the software problem.

“We remain committed to driving continuous improvement and upholding the high standards that keep us at the forefront of ride safety,” said Greg Hale, chief safety officer of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

One independent expert on Disneyland, “Mouse Tales” author David Koenig, said the run of accidents may be a terrible case of bad luck. But, at a minimum, it creates a perception problem for the park, undercutting Disneyland contentions that such accidents are extremely rare, he said.

“Disney has run out of its ‘one-in-a-million’ excuse,” Koenig said.

The latest accident occurred when one train arriving at the station bumped into another. Both were carrying passengers, though only a handful of riders complained of minor aches.

Despite the human error, the computer operating system should have prevented the collision, Gard said. “It was a small window of opportunity for the error to happen. If he [the operator] would have pressed the button out of sequence at any other place, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.”

Waiting for Big Thunder Mountain to reopen Friday, many tourists said they have few qualms about the ride.

“Disneyland has been around for a really long time, and there have been very few accidents,” said Brad Macy, 44, visiting from Walnut Creek with his two children. “I’m not a big fan of roller coasters, but I think they are fairly safe.”

His son, Leor, 12, was more guarded. “It scares me a little,” he said. “But I’m going to go on it anyway.”