Theme parks and curler coasters. The epitome of thrilling household enjoyable and fond reminiscences. Particularly right here in New Jersey, dwelling to boardwalks, family-owned parks, and the world-class Six Flags Nice Journey.
Sadly, all through historical past, a number of high-profile accidents have occurred at New Jersey theme parks. Some have been even deadly.
Probably the most notorious tragedy was most likely the Haunted Citadel hearth at Nice Journey on Could 11, 1984. Eight youngsters have been trapped and killed within the inferno.
Three years later, on June 17, 1987, a 19-year-old lady fell from one of many Lightnin’ Loops curler coasters when an operator allegedly didn’t safe her harness.
However I need to let you know a few little-known incident that predated each of those. A park worker died precisely 40 years in the past – August 16, 1981 – trying one thing extremely silly and harmful.
Rolling Thunder stood within the Frontier Adventures part of Six Flags Nice Journey from 1979 to 2013. In its prime, it was an thrilling dual-tracked, racing picket curler coaster. 96 ft tall, 56 mph prime velocity, over 3,300 ft lengthy, and constructed with over 60 miles of Douglas Fir lumber.
I’ve a particular affinity for the dearly departed Rolling Thunder. I spent three incredible summers working for Six Flags, as trip operator and supervisor of that very trip. Odds are fairly good that for those who rode Rolling Thunder between 2002 and 2004, I used to be the one telling you to stay seated together with your arms, arms, and legs contained in the trip always.
But long ago, in Rolling Thunder’s third season of operation, 20-year-old park employee Scott Tyler of Middletown, N.J. was killed during a morning test ride.
The NJ Department of Labor and Industry issued a statement that said (as reported by the New York Times):
According to employees and other eyewitness accounts, all safety equipment was in place when the ride began… The investigation so far indicates that Tyler may have assumed an unauthorized riding position that did not make use of the safety feature of the restraining devices.
A later report by OSHA gave more detail as they fined the park later that month:
Mr. Tyler, who had worked at the park for several summers, was test riding the Rolling Thunder roller coaster just before the 10 A.M. opening of the park when he fell to his death. An autopsy showed he had died of a fractured skull and multiple injuries. Officials estimated the car had been traveling at around 35 miles per hour at the time of the accident, and said that Mr. Tyler had not put down a safety bar before he began the test run.
In other words? The daredevil climbed out of the lap bar, holding on for dear life. Until the roller coaster train hit the high-speed turn, and he was thrown off.
The coaster was thoroughly inspected by state officials, deemed structurally and mechanically safe, and reopened two days later.
Modern theme park rides have so many redundant safety features and procedures that it would be difficult for such a tragedy to happen again.
There is an eerie appendix to this story too. Legend has it (among the Rolling Thunder crew) that the deceased operator haunted the ride. And that every year of the anniversary of his death – August 16th – something strange always happened.
And yes, I can confirm that the strangest breakdowns of my ride operating career happened precisely on this date. Phantom error messages, a broken proximity switch, and a blown lift transformer.
It is the closest I’ve ever come to “supernatural” occurrences. That’s why National Roller Coaster Day has an unusual significance for me, and anyone who knows the history of Rolling Thunder. (May she Rest in Pieces.)
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist and Coasterologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. These days, he can be found occasionally riding roller coasters, instead of working at them.
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