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LPWire: Fatal accident on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain

September 5th Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Accident

One person died and ten other were injured in an accident on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Friday morning.

Twenty-two year old Marcelo Torres, of Gardena, who was in the first car behind the locomotive, died inside the ride and his body had to be extricated by paramedics said a spokesperson. One of the other victims had moderate injuries and the other cases were considered minor. Six were taken to the University of California Irvine Medical Center, two were taken to Western Medical Center and two were treated at the scene and released. The injured included two boys ages 9 and 15, two men ages 20 and 47, and four women ages 19, 21, 37 and 47. The ages of the two people treated at the scene were not available. The most seriously injured, Vicente Gutierrez, was released from the hospital on Sunday afternoon. (A Sep 7 LA Times article includes comments from Gutierrez).

Details of the accident itself have not been made available. Many agencies are on scene investigation. It has been confirmed by several news agencies that it occured in a tunnel and involved a derailment. The locomotive piece detached from the passanger cars. The locomotive was derailed. The passenger cars were not. It is unclear if the detachment occured before the accident or as a result of the accident.

In a televised statement Disneyland Resort President Cynthia Harriss said "I'd like to share with you that on behalf of the entire cast of the Disneyland Resort that we are shocked and saddened by this incident and accident that occurred today that resulted in a death of one of our guests. Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of the victim and all of the individuals that have been injured. Thank you."

A press conference by a City of Anaheim spokesperson was held at 2:30. According to the spokesperson, the victim was not thrown from the vehicle nor is there an indication of heart attack (both were previously reported by the media). The male victim did die on the scene, he was not transported to the hospital.

A 5:15p Press Conference was held with Disney CEO Michael Eisner and President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo. Below is a transcript of their statements and the Question and Answer session (note: The first couple of words by Eisner were missed):

Michael Eisner: ... are deeply saddened by today's accident. Our hearts and prayers go out to those injured and the family of the deceased. Over the last 50 years the safety and well being of our theme parks guests and employees has been and continues to be  our top priority. We are working very closely with local and state authorities to gather the facts and determine the cause of this accident as quickly as possible. I came down to Disneyland specifically to lend my support to our cast, to express condolences to those people that are injured, to the family of the deceased, and commit that this company will continue on its mission of guest safety and guest satisfaction. And I'd like to introduce Jay Rasulo whom I just described as the President of our Theme Parks and Resorts who will fill you in more as to what we now know.

Jay Rasulo: Thank you Michel. The parks and resorts family is deeply saddened by this tragic event. Obviously our first concern is the care of everyone whose been affected by this tragedy - Cast Members as well as guests. As Michel says, our top concern remains the safety and security of our guests in our theme parks.

Let me tell you that every attraction at Disneyland is inspected every morning before any guest rides any of the attractions. We take a systematic approach to maintenance, a systematic approach to the safety of our guests at any and all times when they're in our parks.

Let me tell you a little bit about what's happening right now. Firstly, our first priority is the guests who are injured as well as their families and Cast Members who are also deeply affected by an occurrence like this. We are providing them and supporting them in every way. Helping them along with their medical care, counseling, providing the resources that they need in this very troubled time for them. There are many many questions coming into the phones at Disneyland, both Cast Members and guests concerned about family and friends that were here. Let me give you a 24 hour hotline number that everyone can call. It's 800-642-5399. And that hotline has all information about park hours, about what will happen tomorrow, what's happening right now, all the information that we have available to us.

As far as the accident scene is concerned, state and local investators have been diligently on this job, on the investigation since about 11:30 this morning. They of course work in great cooperation with us. We have not had the opportunity to get in with our own staff and technical staff to make a full investigation of what has gone on. Of course we are as anxious as anyone, as anxious as all of you to understand the details of what happened, the root causes, and to get to the bottom of what happened this morning. We will not rest until we have the facts regarding this matter. The attraction will remain closed indefinitely. And if you wish, at this point, I'll take your questions.

Question: How thorough was that inspection? Did they walk the track, etc.

Rasulo: As I said our approach to maintenance is quite systematic. Every attraction including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is inspected every morning before guests arrive.

Question: What does it mean to inspect? Does it mean the cars are run through? Exactly what does it mean to inspect?

Rasulo: Yes, we run of course all the cars through and do a systematic inspection plan according to a schedule, the details of which - as we get into this investigation I think we need to look at what exactly the details are of that. But we do do inspections every day of every attractions.

Question: Can you explain was it one car that derailed in this accident. Do you know?

Rasulo: You know we don't know exactly what's happened yet. Obviously, as I mentioned we are in cooperation with the public authorities in the review of what exactly happened. We don't have all the details. I think it would be premature and irresponsible to give you an answer to that question until we know the facts.

Question: Do you have any indication of that last timee that you did a full inspection of the ride. Where you literally stopped, looked down, walked every inch, looked everything over?

Rasulo: A question like that and the answer to it are really part of a holistic overall investigation and I won't answer the detail to that right now.

Question: Do you how many times the attraction ran this morning prior to the accident?

Rasulo: No I do not.

Question: Does the ride have a mechanism so that it will stop if it is having problems?

Rasulo: You know, all of the attractions of course have very technical and scientific braking systems and stopping systems. Part of our ongoing investigation of this situation, of course, and how that played into the today's accident will unfold as we get into the investigation.

Question: But is there an automatic stop for this ride that triggers when there is a malfunction or it senses there is a problem?

Rasulo: All of our attractions have triggers that sense things that are not proper as the ride progresses through its cycle. Again, I'll just come back and say relative to this situation, I think we'll understand that better when we actually get in and start looking at what happened.

Question: We know there have been prior accidents on this ride. It has malfunctioned before...

Rasulo: I think comparing the incident of this morning which we don't really know all the details of to anything else that's happened in the past is probably premature. So I won't get into that.

Question: Can you describe for us if you have seen the ride today. Where the locomotive is at this moment and where the other cars are.

Rasulo: I have personally not seen that. The scene of the accident was secured for investigation purposes by our colleagues and friends at the Anaheim Police Department as well as the Fire Department. And as we get into the investigation we'll understand that better. I don't want to answer that question because it's premature and I don't know the exact answer.

Question: Do you now where the accident happened on this ride. We were told a tunnel. Was at the beginning of the ride, the end of the ride...

Rasulo: It did not happen in the load area. It happened somewhere along the track. I can only repeat that we have not been inside the attraction to see exactly where this occurred.  So let's let the investigation unfold so we can answer that question correctly.

Question: Can you tell us anymore about the victim? Was he here with his family, etc...

Rasulo: We don't have too many details. As you know, we are not at liberty to discuss that. That's a better question for the city of Anaheim and the Police Department. At the appropriate time I'm sure they will make all that information available.

Question:  What are the speeds that this railroad reaches?

Rasulo: Well there are various speeds within the attraction as you can imagine. I believe the top speed of this attraction is about 28 mph, but that's a detail we can get further information on.

Question: What is the actual sequence of the investiation? When you say it has been shut down while officials are looking at it, when they finish up are your people literrally going to work hand-in-hand with Anaheim, Cal-OSHA and say 'let's go over it step-by-step' and when do you expect to be able to have access to it? The next 24 hours? 36 hours?

Rasulo: I think your question details the process quite well. We work in close cooperation with the California Dept of Safety and Health as well as the authorities here in Anaheim in any investigation, this one included, and progressively that core team of people from inside of our organization as well as the city and OSHA will conduct that investigation. I don't want to give you the details and timeline of that because they're not completely evident to me at this moment.

Question: Can you tell us about the safety record of that attraction?

Rasulo: As I said, we have a very systematic approach to our maintenance and safety. We entertain millions of guests every year here and around the world in a very safe environment. And as I said any comparison to the history for this attraction really is premature and, I think, a little irresponsible at this point.

Question: In light of what happened here, has this triggered you to take a closer look at some of the other rides, similar rides, couplings of passenger cars, and the like?

Rasulo: Premature to answer that question. We're just in the middle of investigation of what, in fact, happened here. So to answer about any detail of what we will invest or what will be the outcome of this investigation, I don't think, is responsible at this point.

Question: Is this a ride that little children can ride on also? Or is this one of those that has a certain type of restriction on it?

Rasulo: There is a height restriction on this attraction. I'm going to guess it's 42 inches? (looks to an assistant) 40 inches. So that means that children can ride the attraction, not very small children under the height of 40 inches.

Question: Based on past history, do you believe that the Railroad will be shut down for weeks or perhaps for months?

Rasulo: Too early to speculate on that. I don't know how long the investigation will take.

Question: When was the last time that you and Mr. Eisner rode on this attraction.

Rasulo: Personally - I don't want to speak for Michael - I would say that sometime within the last 3 months. I don't know precisely when, but you know I travel around our parks all over the world and ride the attractions all the time.

Question: Do you know how many people were on the ride at the time of the accident?

Rasulo: No, we don't. I don't have that information available.  I can tell you that the maximum capacity of such a train is 32 guests. Don't have the detail on how many were on at that moment.

So let me turn over at this point...

Question:  You mentioned earlier that you were here to express condolenses to the family of the deceased. Have you been able to make any contact...

Eisner: No, actually the name of the deceased has not been released by Anaheim yet due to the process that they undertake notifying the family. So we are in the exact same position you are as far as that goes.

Disneyland will have normal hours on Saturday. Frontierland is expected to be open, however Big Thunder Mountain is expecte to be closed. ABC Primetime Preview Weekend at Disney's California Adventure will go on as scheduled.

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-- Last Updated September 8th at 10:50a