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Disneyland Closes Space Mountain After Accident Hurts 9

Ride: Car apparently was derailed late Monday, causing minor injuries. Under a new law, the theme park was required to report the incident to the state.

August 02, 2000|JEFF GOTTLIEB and GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Disneyland closed the Space Mountain roller coaster through Tuesday after it malfunctioned Monday night, causing minor injuries to nine people.

The names of the injured were unavailable from either the theme park or the Anaheim Fire Department. All were treated at local hospitals and released. The most seriously injured, a German woman, was treated at Western Medical Center in Anaheim for multiple bruises.

Disneyland reported the accident Tuesday afternoon to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, as required under a new state law regulating the industry.

Cal-OSHA officials said they are investigating the accident, as is Disney.

Although the law has yet to be implemented fully, it requires that accidents be reported within 24 hours.

The Space Mountain accident occurred when a wheel came apart or was dislodged from the track about 10:55 p.m. Monday, bringing the car to a stop, Fire Department spokesman Kent Mastain said. Firefighters unbolted the seat to remove the most seriously injured passenger, he said.

Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez said a support arm underneath the car that ran between two wheels came loose, causing the ride to stop suddenly. He did not know what caused the problem.

"All normal ride safety control systems worked as designed and brought the system to a halt," he said.

Gomez said the Tomorrowland ride, a roller coaster through the dark interior of Space Mountain, had never had any mechanical problems before at Disneyland or the other Disney parks.

The theme park industry in California had long kept itself free of state oversight until a series of incidents, most notably the Christmas Eve 1998 accident at Disneyland that killed a tourist from Washington state and injured two others. Cal/OSHA blamed an inadequately trained worker and misuse of equipment for the accident on the sailing ship Columbia ride.

The fatal accident also renewed interest in Sacramento in regulating amusement parks. The state adopted a law last fall to require annual inspections of rides, safety guidelines and reporting of accidents. But the rule-making process to implement the law has since become bogged down amid industry objections.

The Space Mountain accident was revealed a day after a new federal report focused attention on dangers at theme parks across the nation.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which backs pending legislation to give it power to investigate accidents, said its survey of 100 emergency rooms found that 7,260 people were injured on permanent amusement park rides last year, a 12% increase from the previous year and a 95% rise over the 1996 figure.

But the agency acknowledged Tuesday that its survey is only "marginally significant" and that the numbers could be off by as much as 50%.

"The margin for error is ludicrous," said John Graff, chief executive of the International Assn. of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "It's a big question in our minds as to what they are doing out there."

Commission officials defended the survey, however. Jacqueline Elder, a deputy assistant commission director who oversees its reports, said that if theme parks had been required to report accidents, as traveling carnivals and fairs are, the commission would have had better numbers to work with.

"Even when you take the margin for error into account, there is still an upward trend in the number of injuries," she said.

The commission said it hopes its study will bolster a bill by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to authorize the agency to set safety standards, conduct inspections and investigate injuries and deaths at amusement parks. The commission also would have the power to fine owners for violations and would require all accidents to be reported to the agency.

Space Mountain is a 23-year-old roller coaster that is one of Disneyland's most popular attractions. A sign at the entrance to the ride Tuesday showed Mickey Mouse in a hard hat, holding a paint brush. "Sorry folks, this attraction is closed for refurbishment," it said.

Mike Clifford of Glendora felt that he should get a free pass for a return visit. "This is one of the best rides here," he said. "It's dark and fast. For all the money you have to pay to get in here, you want to be able to go on Space Mountain."

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Times staff writers Ann Kim and E. Scott Reckard contributed to this story.

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