On Tuesday this week, stunned visitors to Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando watched in horror as a nine-foot alligator emerged from the waters and snatched a toddler who was paddling in the water.
The child’s father attempted to fight off the animal but was unsuccessful and the boy’s body which police said was "completely intact" was recovered Wednesday afternoon.
The tragic event is certainly bizarre, but over the years Disney has had its fair share of tragic accidents. With millions of people visiting Disney resorts each year such incidents are perhaps inevitable, and, although infinitesimally unlikely on a pure probability scale, such events still have the power to shock and grab headlines so contrary do they run to the expected narrative of a day out at Disney.
Take, for example, the fate of Cristina Moreno, a 23-year-old Spanish woman who went on the Indiana Jones ride on June 25th, 2000 at Disneyland in Anaheim. The exhilarating, g-force inducing ride leaves most of its customers in an adrenalin-pumped state of delight, but Cristina, who was on her honeymoon, emerged from the ride complaining of a headache so severe that she had to be hospitalized. It was then discovered that she was suffering a brain hemorrhage. Just over two months later, Cristina, who had a preexisting aneurysm, succumbed to her injuries, causing her family to sue Disneyland for wrongful death. The family eventually received an out-of-court settlement, according to the LA Times.
Brain injuries are in fact a not-unknown, if very rare, side effect of such rides. The LA Times list a number of other thrill-ride fatalities, including: Justine Dedele Bolia, 20, who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and collapsed shortly after riding Montezooma's Revenge, a roller coaster at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park. Pearl Santos, 28, of Fontana who died in June after suffering a ruptured aneurysm on the Goliath roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia. The coroner's report, the Times says, “indicated the stress and strain of the ride may have contributed to her death.”
Disneyland in Anaheim was the scene of another tragedy on September 5th, 2003, when employees noticed that the "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad" was making a curious ‘clanking’ noise, but operators kept the ride running for another 30 minutes, at the end of which it suffered a horrendous crash.
A report by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health quoted by The Orlando Sentinel found that workers who maintained Big Thunder Mountain “hastily approved paperwork to show the train was ready for public use”
Two bolts on the locomotive's wheel assembly fell off, causing an axle to jam. The train nose-dived and its rear hit the top of a tunnel. The force snapped a tow bar holding the first passenger car, which slammed into the locomotive's undercarriage. Ten riders were hurt, and 22-year-old Marcelo Torres of Gardena, Calif., was killed.
Three days before jury selection was due to begin, the Walt Disney Co settled with Marcelo’s family for an undisclosed sum. While the settlement's terms remained confidential, Marcelo Torres' parents told the LA Times they were giving $500,000 of the award to Brooks College in Long Beach to provide scholarships to aspiring animators. Their 22-year-old son was a graphic artist.
There were even scare-stories that Thunder Mountain was cursed when it was involved in two further incidents in the following twelve months, however the attraction remained open until 2015 when it was closed to make way for Star Wars Land.
Speed is not always to blame. One of the most bizarre injuries to occur at Disneyland goes back to 1972, when a group of four teens were riding in the People Mover in ‘Tomorrowland’, which moved at a stately 2 miles per hour. A gust of wind blew a Mickey Mouse cap off one of the girl’s heads. In an attempt to retrieve the beloved hat, one of the girls hopped out of the car - and fell 30 foot to the concrete below. She was not killed but her injuries included a broken leg, pelvis, and hip, according to Frank's Reel Reviews.
Whilst the most terrible, headline-grabbing incidents have usually been caused by complex mechanical failure, a death at Disney World Florida had a lower-tech cause: a puddle of water.
On August 6th, 2009, the "Captain Jack Pirate Tutorial" was in full swing when a 47-year old employee slipped in a puddle and fell, sustaining a broken neck and severe head injuries that needed 55 stitches. He passed away just a few days later from complications, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Staff deaths are, although still exceptionally rare, among the most common fatalities at Disney resorts. In an incident more redolent of the Grimm fairy tales than Disney's popcorn fare, on Feb. 11, 2004, a 38-year-old employee dressed as Pluto was killed at the Magic Kingdom when he was run over by the Beauty and the Beast float.
And whilst getting a good scare is part of the attraction for many punters, they probably don’t want to be as alarmed as the grandmother of a boy who, in October 2014, was bitten by a snake which fell out of a tree onto a group of guests in a public area of the theme park and bit her 8-year-old relative. The kid was fine – the boy's grandmother suffered cardiac arrest and died soon afterwards.