13 Deadliest Roller Coaster Accidents

By: Cherise Threewitt & Clint Pumphrey  | 
As you barrel down the first hill of that roller coaster, do you ever think about how safe you are? Sami Sarkis/Getty Images

After an hour standing in line, you finally get a seat on the amusement park's most awe-inspiring roller coaster. The butterflies flutter in your stomach as the ride operator secures the restraint over your shoulders and you realize there's no turning back. Ahead, the rail seems to climb into the clouds. Your heartbeat doubles as the car creeps ahead — up, up, up until you top out at 310 feet (94 meters) on the precipice of a near-vertical drop. This is a bad time to wonder: Is this thing safe?

You'll be glad to know that the answer is yes. While accidents do happen, they're not indicative of high risk. In fact, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recorded just 51 non-occupational fatalities at theme parks from 1987 through 2000 (the last year CPSC tracked them).


Today, injuries at amusement parks are tracked by state and local governments and are more difficult to monitor. The most recent numbers come from the 2021 survey conducted by the National Safety Council (NSC), which provided self-reported data from 484 U.S. and Canadian fixed-site amusement facilities that were invited to participate. The survey reported 1,281 ride-related injuries in the 2021 season. That was about 3.7 injuries per million visitors. (The survey didn't track fatalities.)

Still, deaths do happen. And while these incidents are certainly the exception, when they occur, they are frightening. Here's a list of 13 of the deadliest roller coaster accidents in the last two decades.

13: Wildcat, Bell's Amusement Park, 1997

Bell's amusement Park
On April 20, 1997, a 14-year-old boy died after he was ejected from the Wildcat ride at Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa. Tom Baddley/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

If you've ever ridden a roller coaster, you know the nervous excitement that builds as the cars slowly climb to the top of the ride. It's the calm before a thrilling blur of speed, tight turns and 360-degree loops. Now imagine how terrifying it would be if the lift chain pulling your car to the summit malfunctioned and sent the car careening backward. That's exactly what happened April 20, 1997, at Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That day, visitors packed the park for a special 25-cent-per-ride promotion. A popular attraction was the Wildcat, which had been testing Tulsans' nerves since 1974. As one of the ride's cars reached the top of the highest hill it stalled and a safety device meant to keep it from sliding backward failed. The car slipped 45 feet (13.7 meters) back down the track and slammed into another car, ejecting a 14-year-old boy who was the lone fatality. Six other people were injured [source: Pagel].


State investigators ultimately determined that Bell's had replaced a plastic part of the anti-rollback device with a material that was not approved by the manufacturer. While the victim's families negotiated a financial settlement with the park's owners, criminal charges were eventually dropped. Bell's Amusement Park closed in 2006.

12: Willard's Whizzer, Marriott's Great America Amusement Park, 1980

Willard's Whizzer
A teenage boy was crushed by a runaway train in the boarding station of Willard's Whizzer. Great America Parks

Roller coasters don't have to reach extreme height or speed to cause a fatal accident. Take Willard's Whizzer, which peaked at just 70 feet (21.3 meters) and clocked in at a paltry 42 miles per hour (67.6 kilometers per hour). It was so tame that when it was first constructed in 1976, its cars didn't even have restraints.

The accident occurred March 29, 1980, when a teenage boy was stepping onto the ride. Without warning, a second train came up behind the one he was boarding and rammed it. The impact threw the teen onto the tracks where the runaway train crushed him. Eight others were injured as well [source: Kaplan and Nelson].


Because the second train breached several automatic safety systems, investigators blamed an electric signal that disrupted the roller coaster's computer. To rejuvenate the ride's image, the park put seatbelts in the cars and renamed the ride Whizzer. Nevertheless, the park eventually disassembled it in 1988.

11: Space Journey, Ecoventure Valley, 2010

A tragic accident aboard Space Journey, a simulation roller coaster ride, killed six and injured nine in 2010 in China. The accident took place at the Ecoventure Valley amusement park, and it was immediately considered mysterious [source: Carothers and Zhang].

The ride, which was designed to evoke the feeling of a rocket launch, placed riders in cabins that spun around under a dome. According to the South China Morning Post, Space Journey's 11 cabins, where riders were seated, all turned upside down, tossing the passengers [source: Tam].


So, why the mystery? It's unclear to park operators and officials why the cars flipped in the first place. Add to that a number of conflicting eyewitness accounts, suggesting everything from a physical failure of the rear seats to a fire and explosion. Park officials offered no further details except the incident was unlike anything that had happened at a Chinese park before.

10: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disneyland, 2003

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
In 2003, one man was killed and 10 others were injured when part of a train derailed on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. Disneyland

In 1979 mineshafts and a desert landscape. That premise became all too real in 2003 when part of wagon train derailed, killing one rider and injuring 10 others.

The train, which consists of a small locomotive and five cars that can carry 32 people, had just climbed up a hill and into a tunnel when the accident occurred. A wheel assembly fell off the locomotive, jamming one of the axles and causing the back end of the locomotive to kick up and hit the top of the tunnel. The front car then struck the locomotive's undercarriage, killing one man who had to be extricated from the wreckage by emergency workers. When the dust settled, the locomotive sat derailed at the top of the hill while the remaining cars stayed on the tracks and came to rest 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9.1 meters) away at the bottom of the incline [sources: Pfeifer et al., Luna].


Investigators from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) later released a report blaming park maintenance workers, ride operators and a mechanic for the accident. Disney settled with the man's family for an undisclosed amount of money.

9: Fujin Raijin II, Expoland, 2007

May 5, 2007, was Children's Day in Japan, but no one was celebrating after an accident left one dead and 19 injured in Osaka. The incident occurred on the Fujin Raijin II roller coaster ride at Expoland, an amusement park first built for the International Exposition in 1970. The coaster's design required riders to stand throughout the 0.65-mile (1,050-meter) course, where the six-car trains reached speeds as fast as 47 miles per hour (75 kilometers per hour) [source: The Japan Times].

Everything seemed normal when 20 passengers got on the Fujin Raijin II in the early afternoon. The roller coaster was more than halfway over when, suddenly, the second car derailed and tilted dramatically to the left toward the guardrail. That proved fatal for one young woman, who struck her head on the railing as the coaster roared down the tracks. The coaster continued, making a horrible scraping sound before finally coming to a rest 328 yards (300 meters) later.


According to Expoland's operator, a broken wheel axle was responsible for the accident. The problem might have been caught during the ride's annual maintenance, but these repairs didn't happen in 2007: The park claimed it didn't have enough workspace to disassemble and inspect the cars. Expoland closed in 2009, 1.6 billion yen in debt, thanks in large part to declining ticket sales in the wake of the coaster accident [source: Japan Economic Newswire].

8: Top Scan, Adventureland, 2005

Top Scan
In 2005, a woman who wasn't properly secured in her seat was tossed at least 25 feet (7.6 meters) from the Top Scan ride and killed. Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 4.0)

A popular amusement park in Long Island called Adventureland had a great safety record for 43 years until 2005. First, a park employee was killed by a kid's roller coaster called the Lady Bug and a few days later, a female rider was ejected from her seat on the Top Scan in an accident that resulted in her death [source: Doyle].

Eyewitnesses suggested the woman was not properly secured in her seat, because she was hurled "straight up" from the Top Scan ride. She went at least 25 feet (7.6 meters) in the air, over the park's fence and landed on a car in the parking lot.


The Top Scan, which resembles a windmill, had not previously been involved in any safety incidents, but ride inspectors suggested the safety harness may not have been secured or working.

7: Derby Racer, Revere Beach, 1911-1936

Derby Racer
Several people were killed on the Derby Racer roller coaster at Revere Beach in Massachusetts between 1911 and 1936. Boston Public Library

The concept behind the Derby Racer roller coaster at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, was a fun one: Two trains raced down parallel tracks to a finish line at the bottom of the ride. You can imagine the scene as teenagers screamed and taunted one another as one car pulled ahead, then the other, through a series of dips and curves on course. But excitement and friendly competition often turned to tragedy thanks to the coaster's abysmal safety record.

Things got off to a bad start in June 1911 when the treasurer of the roller coaster company was fatally injured, ironically, when he stood up to lecture other passengers about safety. The accident, which was actually the second fatality of the year, forced local officials to revoke the ride's license until workers could install brakes and safety restraints in the passenger cars [source: Stewart].


Apparently, however, the restraints didn't do much good. In 1917 a man lost his hat as the train headed up a steep incline, and he fell out of his car while attempting to recover it. He tumbled onto the other track where he was hit by a train and dragged 35 feet (10.7 meters). He died, according to the newspaper, after breaking "nearly every bone in body."

In 1936 the Derby Racer was demolished, but not, evidently, because of its bad reputation. The roller coaster that replaced it was simply called "the new Derby Racer" [source: Francis and Francis].

6: Orlando FreeFall, ICON Park, 2022

Orlando FreeFall
The Orlando FreeFall has been closed permanently since a 14-year-old boy fell to his death from the ride in March 2022. Malorny/Getty Images

One of the more recent incidents on this list happened in March 2022, at ICON Park near Orlando. The ride involved, Orlando FreeFall, isn't a roller coaster. Instead it's a high speed ride that sends passengers straight up and then drops them from a height of 400 feet (122-meter) at speeds of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour) [source: Vera and Lynch].

A 14-year-old park guest fell from the Orlando FreeFall and died of blunt force trauma, according to the autopsy report. His death was ruled an accident.


Several factors potentially contributed to the tragic accident, as determined by a forensic engineering firm. The analysis found that the teen's safety harness had been manually adjusted to allow a larger gap between the harness and the seat. This allowed him to slip out and fall. Also, the teen boy weighed nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) more than the ride's weight limit, which could suggest that's why the seat restraint was improperly adjusted.

The Orlando FreeFall, once the tallest ride of its kind in the world, was permanently closed after the incident.

5: The Cobra, Tivoli Friheden, 2022

Tivoli Friheden Park is a popular amusement park located in Arhus, Midtjylland, Denmark. It opened in 1958 and has been popular with both locals and tourists ever since. The park has tons of rides, roller coasters, gardens and playgrounds, and also hosts concerts.

But the usually fun scenes at Tivoli Friheden turned tragic when a ride called the Cobra seriously malfunctioned. The Cobra roller coaster is inverted, meaning riders sit in cars on trains that are suspended from the track. The trains have five cars and each car holds two riders in a single row.


July 14, 2022, the rear two seats became partially detached from the the coaster and were hanging under the wagon train [source: CBS News]. Several people were trapped. According to initial investigations, the rear part of the Cobra roller coaster broke loose and came off the rails.

A 14-year-old girl from Copenhagen died and a 13-year-old boy sustained serious injuries to his hand. The 2022 incident wasn't the first for the Cobra, either. In 2008, four young people were injured when the train derailed in 2008. The Cobra has since been permanently closed.

4: Rough Riders, Coney Island, 1915

Rough Riders
Several people fell to their deaths on the Rough Riders roller coaster (also known as Drop the Dip) in 1915. Public Domain

Today, a roller coaster named Rough Riders wouldn't sound particularly appealing. But in 1915 the Spanish-American War, which featured Theodore Roosevelt's legendary "Rough Riders" cavalry regiment, was still a recent memory, so it probably sounded awesome. Not so July 27 of that year, however, when an accident killed three riders and injured several people [source: Coney Island History].

The Rough Riders, originally known as Drop the Dip, was located in Coney Island, New York. The roller coaster operated much like a modern subway: Each train had a driver and an electric motor powered by a third rail that propelled its riders up hills and around corners.

On that fateful summer day in 1915, six people boarded the ride. Excitement built as they slowly passed through an exhibit that recalled scenes from the war. Then, the train accelerated. A crowd looked on as it shot down an incline and headed into a sharp turn. Suddenly, the wheels left the track, flipping the car on its side and hurling the driver and four passengers into a flimsy iron railing 30 feet (9.1 meters) above the pavement. Three fell to their deaths while two — a woman and her 4-year-old son — clung to the wrecked car's handrail until police were able to rescue them. Another person was injured when the driver's body struck her as she watched from the ground.

Witnesses claimed that the accident was caused by excessive speed as the train entered the turn. However, jurors ultimately exonerated the ride's manager on charges of homicide after determining that the tragic accident was "unavoidable."

3: Mindbender, Fantasyland, 1986

The Mindbender triple-loop coaster derailed when it stalled on the third loop, killing three riders and injuring several people. Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 2.0)

The 1986 Mindbender accident is the only disaster on the list that happened indoors, but that doesn't make it any less tragic. The ride, a large indoor triple-loop coaster, featured steel construction and a four-car train. It was the main attraction of Fantasyland a popular amusement park in West Edmonton Mall's [source: Franklin].

It was June 14, 1986, just one day after an Alberta province safety inspector declared the ride safe. The train slid around a turn at 60 miles per hour (96.5 kilometers per hour), gaining momentum for the first of the three loops. Before it got there, though, the rear car began to fishtail. It proceeded through the first two loops but derailed as it approached the third loop, stalling at the top and sliding backward into a concrete column. Three riders died and at least 15 were injured, one seriously [source: United Press International].

Investigators determined that missing bolts in a wheel assembly caused the accident. The ride was closed for several months while the operators made safety improvements, including the installation of anti-rollback mechanisms, seatbelts and headrests. Additionally, the number of seats per car was reduced from 16 to 12, and the number of cars in the train was reduced from four to three. Since then, the Mindbender has closed [source: West Edmonton Mall].

2: Big Dipper, Krug Park, 1930

Local beer magnate Frederick Krug was the owner and namesake of Omaha, Nebraska's Krug Park, but no alcohol was involved when the Big Dipper's train derailed July 24, 1930. Instead, it was mechanical failure that led to the deadliest roller coaster accident in United States history.

The train's four cars were heavily loaded as they departed the boarding area and headed up the first incline. According to investigators, a piece of the brake system worked its way loose and jammed the wheels on one of the cars. It jumped the tracks, breaking through a guardrail before plummeting 35 feet (10.7 meters) to the ground below. The coaster's lift chain continued to run, pushing the other three cars over the edge with the first one. Several people were pinned underneath the runaway train. Four were killed and 19 were injured [source: Gatzemeyer].

Business declined after the disaster, forcing Krug Park to close by 1940. In 1945, concerned citizens launched a fundraising campaign to purchase the land and reopen it as a city park, which they did in 1955. The site now known as Gallagher Park boasts a swimming pool and baseball field — no roller coasters in sight [source: Gatzemeyer].

1: The Big Dipper, Battersea Park, 1972

Big Dipper
The wreck of The Big Dipper at Battersea Park in London is the worst roller coaster in history. Five children were killed and 13 others were injured. Evening Standard/Getty Images

In 1972 Battersea Park in London, England, was the scene of what's widely considered the worst roller coaster disaster in history. The ride was The Big Dipper, a three-car wooden roller coaster built in 1951 as the main attraction for the park's new Fun Fair. It was hugely popular, comparable to today's iconic London Eye.

But the coaster experienced problems from the beginning. In May 1951 an empty car derailed and knocked over a protective railing, stranding passengers in the other cars. Disaster struck again in 1968 when another crash gave a woman a broken arm.

But, by far, the worst accident occurred at The Big Dipper in the late afternoon of May 30, 1972. That's when 31 people climbed aboard and, as the lift chain prematurely released at the top of the first incline, the cars plummeted backward down the hill and into a turn. The train derailed, killing five children and injuring 13 others [source: Brown].

In the aftermath of the tragic accident, the park manager and the coaster's engineer were charged with manslaughter, though they were cleared at trial. But the accident was the beginning of the end for the coaster and the park. The Big Dipper was closed and demolished soon after, and the Fun Fair shut its doors in 1974.

Roller Coaster Accidents FAQ

What are the odds of dying on a roller coaster?
In the United States, the odds of dying in a roller coaster accident are very low, at one in 750 million people.
Which theme park has the most deaths?
New Jersey's Action Park is known as the world's most dangerous theme park. Many serious injuries have happened in the park, while six people have died since the park opened in 1978.
When was the last time someone died on a roller coaster?
The most recent instance of a roller coaster malfunction that resulted in fatalities was in July of 2017 at the Ohio State Fair. The fireball ride malfunctioned and led to one death and six injuries.
Has anyone died at Universal Studios?
Yes, but most of them have been from natural causes or were otherwise not ride-related. The only recorded ride-related death at Universal Studios was in 2004, when a 39-year-old man from Apopka, Florida died after sustaining a head injury from stepping four feet off the Revenge of the Mummy’s loading platform.

Lots More Information

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