It's A Deadly World, After All
Death at Disneyland
Published November 9, 1999 in Whoa!

Disneyland is America's Magic Kingdom of fairy tales and pixie dust, filled with rides and attractions that epitomize the American experience. But for all the manufactured thrills and ersatz danger, not all who brave these iconographic attractions emerge alive and unscathed.

See also...
... by John Marr
... in the Whoa! section
... from November 9, 1999

The Matterhorn (two dead). It began one warm spring evening in 1964 on the faux-snow-covered slopes of the Matterhorn. A 15-year-old boy inexplicably stood up as his sled ascended the mountain, only to be "catapulted free" near the summit, suffering a fatal skull fracture. The Angeleno Alp claimed its second victim twenty years later when a 48-year-old woman somehow managed to tumble from a sled onto the track. As she struggled to gain her feet, another sled ran over her and crushed her to death.

The Sailing Ship Columbia (one dead, two injured). The Columbia, a tall ship replica forever condemned to circle the Rivers of America on a submerged fixed track, is one of the park's most placid rides. Yet on Christmas Eve last year, it caused the bloodiest single mishap in Disneyland history. As the ship was being moored, it ripped a cleat from the dock. The suddenly freed line whipped across the dock, shattering a ride operator's ankle. And the eight-pound cleat tore into the never-ending line of people who were patiently waiting to board the vessel. The hurtling hardware killed a 33-year-old man, almost obliterating his head, and left his wife with severe facial injuries.

The Rivers of America (two dead). In 1973, a pair of boys attempted to swim the treacherous river from Tom Sawyer Island to the park mainland. Neither lad was up to the challenge, although park workers managed to rescue one boy before he drowned. The Rivers claimed their second victim during a graduation night party in 1983. A pair of freshly-minted adults (perhaps after celebrating a little too zealously) commandeered a maintenance boat for a nocturnal ride. Their impromptu adventure came to a premature end when they struck a rock, sending one lad over the side to meet his maker in a four-foot-deep watery grave.

Monorail (one dead). The monorail may be futuristic in concept, but in 1966 it demonstrated that no matter how fancy the railroad, trespassers are still a pain. A 19-year-old man tried to slip into the park via the canopy beneath the track. Even as a security guard shouted and an oncoming train whooshed closer, he remained ignorant of his peril until it was too late. The train dragged him for 30 or 40 feet. The newspapers could only describe his body as "mangled."

Attractions Emeritus. Two of Disneyland's deadliest attractions have long since been relegated to the never-never land of retired rides. No longer do the cruel, hard rubber wheels of the PeopleMover menace visitors to Tomorrowland. In its 40-odd years of operation, it managed to leave two teenagers dead and a toddler with a fractured skull -- despite its never exceeding five miles per hour. And the revolving stage of America Sings, which crushed a teen park worker to death in 1974, spins no more. They may be gone, but they're not forgotten.

Honorable Mention. The old helicopter service between Disneyland and Los Angeles International Airport wasn't technically a park attraction. But it did do away with Disneyland "guests" in an impressive fashion. Back in the '60s, helicopter was the transit option of choice for VIPs and well-heeled out-of-state visitors making the pilgrimage to the Magic Kingdom... until chopper service was discontinued after suffering two of the bloodiest civilian helicopter crashes in U.S. history.

The first crash came in May, 1968, when an LAX-bound chopper full of sated park guests disintegrated in midair over Paramount, California, killing all 23 on board. A mere three months later, a helicopter en route to the park came up short, crash landing in a Compton playground and killing all 21 on board.

Limousines have since become the transit option of choice for the well-heeled.

John Marr is the publisher of Murder Can Be Fun.