Disney parks have long been the epitome of childhood dreams. Wondrous rides and attractions, photo-ops with beloved characters, and a plethora of parades and shows make Disney a place where innocence and magic come to roost.
But not all days at Disney are wonderful.
Unfortunately, Disney parks have been the sites of terrible accidents and even a few crimes in the half-century since Disneyland opened in 1971. People have broken limbs, lost extremities, and even died on various rides and attractions, and don't get me started on what happens in the swimming pools.
Among all of these terrible happenings, there are some that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Here are some of the worst:
The PeopleMover Incident
In August of 1967, a 17-year-old boy named Ricky Lee Yama was killed while jumping between two moving cars on the PeopleMover as the ride passed through a tunnel. Witnesses reported that he lost balance during a jump and landed on the track, where he was run over by an oncoming train and dragged a few hundred feet. The ride had only been open for a month at the time, and the fact that much of the staff was not yet trained to operate it was taken into consideration when investigating why the train wasn't stopped immediately.
Eerily, a similar incident befell another teenager in 1980. Gerardo Gonzales was climbing from car to car in the early morning hours of Disney's Grad Nite festivities when the ride again entered a tunnel. Like Yama, Gonzales lost his balance and was crushed and dragged almost 100 feet by an oncoming train.
In June 1973, 18-year-old Bogden Delaurot and his ten-year-old brother found themselves stranded on Tom Sawyer's Island after staying in the attraction past its closing time. Rather than finding a park official or calling for help, Bogden attempted to swim across Rivers of America with his brother (who couldn't swim at the time) on his back. He drowned halfway across. Fortunately, his brother survived by doggy-paddling until he was rescued.
On July 8th, 1974, an 18-year-old Disneyland employee named Deborah Stone was working in the America Sings attraction when she was crushed between a revolving wall and a stationary platform. Apparently, she had been standing in the wrong place during intermission, and was unable to escape the wall as it descended. It's suspected that this incident was due to inadequate training, both of Deborah and other employees, because the attraction had only been open for two weeks at the time of the incident.
Bad Water at Fort Wilderness
On August 22nd, 1980, an unidentified 11-year-old boy from New York died from amoebic meningoencephalitis that he had contracted while swimming in the River Country Water Park. For those of you who, like me, speak common English, the boy died because a single-celled organism went up his nose and through his nasal cavity to his brain, where it attacked his nervous system and killed him. This amoeba had been found in other freshwater lakes in Florida and had caused the deaths of two other children earlier in the month. The boy's parents said that River Country was the only place the boy had swum recently, and traces of the amoeba were found in the water. You'd think that River Country would be closed down immediately, right? Not only did it not close immediately, but it remained open for 21 more years.
EPCOT Plane Crash
We've all seen the looming globe that is Walt Disney's Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—or, as it is lovingly known, EPCOT. What we haven't seen much of is plane crashes around this glorious golf ball. But it's happened. On November 21, 1984, a single engine plane crashed while attempting an emergency landing in the EPCOT parking lot, killing a husband and wife as well as their one-year-old daughter. The aircraft was approaching an empty section of the parking lot when it clipped a light pole, shearing off the right wing and causing it to crash into several parked cars. The family was flying from Greer, South Carolina to Kissimmee, Florida for a Disney World vacation; fortunately, the two other children on the plane survived.
Shotgun Suicide at EPCOT
Unfortunately, terrible things happen inside EPCOT as well as in its parking lot. On September 12th, 1992, a man named Allan Ferris entered EPCOT about 90 minutes after the park had closed. He approached three security guards and demanded to see his ex-girlfriend, who worked in the park. When they refused, he produced a sawed-off shotgun and fired shots at them. He took two of them hostage in the restroom nearest the Journey Into Imagination Pavilion. Orange County Sherriff's deputies surrounded the area, and he released the hostages before emerging from the restroom. Tragically, police were unable to talk him down, and he committed suicide before he could be apprehended.
The Sailing Ship Columbia Incident
This one is both interesting and totally tragic; it's the first death of a guest at Disneyland in which the actions of the victim played no part in their death. On December 24th, 1998, the ship was docking when a metal cleat on the hull of the ship came loose and flew into the crowd waiting to board, striking an employee and two visitors. Luan Phi Dawson was killed, and his wife was disfigured in the accident. The subsequent Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) report stated that the cleat wasn't strong enough to halt the ship's forward momentum, and that it should only have been used to hold the ship motionless near the dock while passengers were boarding and disembarking. Further, the staff member who was responsible for docking the ship that day had never been trained on how to do so.
Toontown Car Accident
One of the most popular rides in Toontown is Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin; however, this family favorite is also the site of one of the worst accidents in Disneyland's history.
On September 23rd, 2000, four-year-old Brandon Zucker was on the Car Toon Spin, sitting closest to the open entrance to the car. He fell from the car while it was in motion, and became caught against the tracks underneath the car. As if that's not horrific enough, Disneyland employees didn't call 911 for five minutes after the accident because they had to follow company protocol and contact Disneyland security first. Brandon suffered severe injuries, including cardiac arrest and brain damage. He survived, but died in early 2009 at age 13.
Lost Fingers on Tom Sawyer's Island
Not all accidents at Disney involve moving rides, either. On January 23rd, 2001, a six-year-old girl named Priscilla Figueroa was playing with one of the model rifle turrets when something terrible occurred. According to her father, her finger became stuck as she was climbing down from the turret; however, a paramedic report cited by the LA Times indicated that she likely slipped while her finger was still in the trigger. In any case, two-thirds of her left index finger was pulled clean off, and the accident caused damage to her tendons and forearm. In a controversial decision, Disneyland did not report this incident to OSHA, because Tom Sawyer's Island is technically classified as a playground, they weren't required to report any incidents that happened there.
Derailment on Big Thunder Mountain
Roller-coasters are notorious for being death-defying, with their sharp turns and the high G-forces inflicted on passengers for the sake of a thrill. But sometimes, everything goes wrong, and there's no worse place for it to happen than on a roller-coaster.
On September 5th, 2003, there was a catastrophic derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, where the cars left the tracks and crashed into the surrounding environment. 22-year-old Marcelo Torres suffered severe blunt force trauma injuries and internal bleeding, and he died as a result. Ten other passengers were also injured in the crash. When the accident was investigated, it was determined to have been caused by improper maintenance and safety checks conducted on the popular attraction.
Crushed at a Parade
What could possibly go wrong at a parade? A slow procession of dancers, musicians, and characters escorting elaborate floats? We've learned by now that bad things happen everywhere.
It was February 11th, 2004, when 38-year-old Javier Cruz was dressed as Pluto, preparing to enter Frontierland with the "Share A Dream Come True" parade. Tragically, his foot became caught beneath the Beauty and the Beast float. He was unable to get out of the way, and the person operating the float couldn't stop it in time. He was crushed; reports state that his body had to be removed with a forklift.
The Disneyland Monorail System could be described as powerful, but dangerous. But the safest place to be must be driving one of these trains, right?
On July 5th, 2009, Monorail Pink failed to perform a track switchover from the EPCOT line to the Magic Kingdom Express and backed into Monorail Purple as a result. The 21-year-old driver of Monorail Purple was killed; one employee and six guests on the train were treated for minor injuries at the scene and released. Officials from OSHA and from the park inspected the line on which the accident occurred, and it was reopened on July 6th after new sensors and operating procedures were put in place to prevent this from happening again.
Alligator Attack at the Grand Floridian
Florida is rife with alligators—it's just a feature of the state. However, it stands to reason that Disney, a Mecca for young children, would have a handle on these dangerous creatures and would be experts at ensuring their guests' safety. Right?
On June 14th, 2016, four-year-old Lane Thomas Graves was wandering the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort when he suddenly disappeared. 18 hours later, his remains were discovered, and alligator tracks were seen in the area. That day alone, four alligators had been spotted on Disney property, some six feet or larger.