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Epcot Attraction Reopens After Woman's Death

April 14, 2006|Alet Laubscher, Scott Powers and Beth Kassab | Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World reopened its "Mission: Space" attraction Thursday, a day after a woman died following a ride on the space-flight simulator.

It was the second death in less than a year related to the Epcot Center ride, which spins riders in a centrifuge that subjects them to twice the normal force of gravity.

Hiltrud Bleumel, 49, of Schmitten, Germany, died at a hospital on Wednesday. A 4-year-old boy, Daudi Bamuwamye, died in June after taking the ride.

Even before the latest death, "Mission: Space" was emerging as Walt Disney World's most hazardous attraction, with more than twice as many reported illnesses and injuries as any other Disney ride.

Bleumel's death renewed questions about the safety of the $100-million attraction that simulates a rocket blastoff and landing.

But plenty of people were eager to experience the ride Thursday when it reopened after an inspection by Disney and state officials. Many of the visitors did not know a tourist had died the day before.

Alex Espinoza, 17, rode "Mission: Space" four times, and wasn't worried.

"My voice is destroyed from yelling all day," said Espinoza, who was on a trip with his high school band from Ohio. "It was really, really fun. They warn you numerous times before you get on the ride."

In addition to the two deaths in the last 10 months, 10 people reported serious illnesses or injuries since the ride opened in summer 2003, according to reports Disney filed with the Florida Bureau of Fair Ride Inspections. That's the worst record of all the Disney attractions and doesn't include more than 130 other "Mission: Space" riders who sought medical attention, according to ambulance records.

Second-worst were "Space Mountain" at Magic Kingdom and the wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon. Each had reported one death and four serious injuries or illnesses since 2003, according to state records.

On "Mission: Space," riders are met with 13 signs warning of motion sickness, dark and enclosed spaces and spinning.

All of the warning signs and the video are in English, though Epcot brochures are available in multiple languages at the park's entrance. The brochures briefly describe "Mission: Space" as the "most thrilling attraction in Disney history" and warn that it may cause motion sickness.

"As with any thrill attraction, 'Mission: Space' is not for all guests," Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said.

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