Big Thunder Mountain Accident: more information or just rumors? (2nd UPDATE)

1st UPDATE: new technical facts added (see below, section designated as “Update 1”)
2nd UPDATE: new information regarding “Bill Leics” and “Jan” (see below, section designated as “Update 2”)

One week has passed since the accident on Disneyland Paris’ Big Thunder Mountain on Easter Monday and – unfortunately – new information (or should one say new speculations and rumors?) prompted us to update our coverage once again from or follow-up posted on the past Wednesday, April 27, 2011.

First up, the good news: apparently the one guest seriously injured has been discharged from the hospital again. With that, on to the other news warranting the current follow up post. As of last Wednesday it was the general consensus that the fake rock made out of fiberglass and wood fell down in the tunnel of lift hill C (the final lift hill of the coaster, located inside a tunnel in which an earthquake with shaking bolders is simulated before the mine train “escapes” in the last second), not hitting the train or the guests directly (as originally reported on Easter Monday), but hitting the track, where it was then hit by the train, that flung it upwards “spraying” parts of it onto the guests in the train, resulting in injuries of five guests among the 25 on board of it (for details please check our follow-up post from last week). This general consensus of the course of events now seems to be questioned again. 

The French fan operated website Disney Gazette has released a new photo, which shows the wooden planks of the tunnel portal of the final tunnel of the ride (after the lift hill C – i.e. the entrance to the “bat cave” which leads back from the island of Big Thunder Mountain toward the station on the shores of Frontierland) being splintered as if hit by something extending above the regular height of the locomotive (the highest point of the mine train) in several points.

The photo by DisneyGazette also shows the entrance to the “bat cave” tunnel having been roped off – which makes sense only if this is an area of importance for the ongoing investigation. To this length DisneyGazette in their latest report containing that photo also reports the accident’s course of events as follows (click here for an automated English translation of the report – the segment regarding the accident is roughly 2/3 down the article): the fake rock fell onto the locomotive leading the train inside the tunnel which houses lift hill C (the earthquake scene) and was stuck on top of the locomotive, increasing its height. Nevertheless, the train, according to DisneyGazette, managed to exit the tunnel at the top of the lift hill, turned around the next bend accelerating toward the tunnel portal at the entrance to the “bat cave” which leads back toward the station on the far shore of the Rivers of the Far West. DisneyGazette then describes, that when the locomotive entered the tunnel through the portal the fake rock work on top of the locomotive did hit the wooden portal, since it extended above the regular height of the locomotive, resulting in debris of the fake rock work and the wooden tunnel portal hitting the riders on board of the train, causing the injuries.

Whether this is actually the exact course of events only the still on-going probe by the authorities will be able to determine. At this time all descriptions of the accident should be considered unconfirmed and speculative unless confirmation of the course of events is provided by the authorities or e.g. the resort – which, as far as we know, is not the case for the latest variation as described above.

However, the damage visible in the photo and the explanation of the course of events concurs with some posts that have surfaced in the meantime online by users who claim to have been on-board of the train. An according comment by a user called “Jan” was also posted to our above mentioned coverage on May 2nd. In this comment Jan states:

I was on this ride with my family & this is not what happened. The scenic rock fell onto the chimney stack on the locomotive at the front of the train raising the height considerably. Then when the train entered the final tunnel, there was not enough clearance at the entrance,& the train smashed into the architrave, causing flying debris to hit the guests. This is how the injuries happened. When the train was finally stopped in the tunnel we were left petrified in the dark wondering if the other train which we could hear, was going to plow into the back of us.

This description goes along with a post by a user named Bill Leics on the MiceChat boards which described the accident as follows:

Interestingly, the official first explanation of what happened … a faux rock fell on passengers … has been changed to … the rock fell onto the track and was flipped up onto passengers by the ride hitting it. But that isn’t what happened … what happened was that the boulder became wedged on the locomotive’s chimney, increasing the locomotive’s height by about half. Therefore, when the train entered the final tunnel there wasn’t enough clearance and the train smashed through the tunnel’s architrave and showered guests in flying debris from both the scenery rock and the architrave.

In an earlier post in the same discussion Bill Leics had described the accident already very similar on April 27, 2011:

By the way, what actually happened was that the boulder became wedged on the locomotive’s chimney, increasing the locomotive’s height by about half. Therefore, when the train entered the final tunnel there wasn’t enough clearance and the train smashed through the tunnel’s architrave and showered us in flying debris from both the scenery and the architrave.

In that earlier post he also questioned the first reactions of the cast members on-site (something that was not echoed by any other reports so far):

That something was very seriously wrong was apparent before the train went into its final high speed descent. Disney can be thankful nobody was killed, because having failed to safely halt the ride in a timely manner (and they could have), their first response was appalling. Our train once halted was left in the dark and we listened petrified as the next train hurtled towards us; no attempt was made to reassure us via PA that this train would stop before it crashed into us. Once staff did arrive on the scene they made some serious first aiding errors. Specifically, they attended to the first casualties they came across rather than checking the whole train, and they assumed that because some passengers had managed to wriggle out of their seats everybody could, but many couldn’t because they were trapped by the safety rail. It seems to me that Disney does not have effective and rehearsed Accident Prevention or First on the Scene procedures in place for their high speed roller coasters.

While we are unable to confirm whether “Bill Leics” and / or “Jan” actually were on board of the train and whether their individual descriptions of the course of events are correct, the post and in particular the photo of DisneyGazette could be understood as backing up these posts. Also the fake rock being stuck on the top of the locomotive, thein being splintered by the impact of hitting the tunnel portal with the debris of the fake rock and the wood of the portal flying downwards onto the guests on board of the train could be an explanation for the serious head injuries that one guest incurred and for the description in early reports that fiberglass and wood was involved.

However, questions remain – including questions into the authenticity of the above mentioned posts and whether the course of events as described would actually be technically possible. In the latter regard it should be noted that the train also passes under a solid archway to exit the tunnel which houses lift hill C. Therefore, for the accident to have happened as described by “Bill Leics” and “Jan” the rock archway at the end of the tunnel housing lift hill C would have to be accordingly higher than the wooden tunnel portal at the entrance to the bat cave.

Furthermore, “Bill Leics” states that the train was brought to a complete halt in the final tunnel. Whether this is technically possible could also be questioned, since the final uphill segment at the end of this tunnel does not feature a real lift hill but only a chain starting half-way up. Also Bill Leics only just joined the MiceChat boards in time for his posts and the posts by “Bill Leics” and “Jan” are – in the description of what happened at the entrance to the final tunnel – obviously very, very close in their wording.

We have contacted Jan via the e-mail provided when she made the commented cited above and will keep you informed about any response we might receive.

UPDATE 2:

As “Bill Leics” stated on the MiceChat boards that “Jan” is his wife, explaining the high similarity in the wording of the posts as well as why they made posts on several sites:
Jan is my wife. We posted (on a number of sites) out of frustration over the way this accident was being reported. Some photographs have now come to light which shows that there is much more to this than DLP originally claimed. I doubt whether these photographs would have shown up had we not posted … therefore our posts are wholly vindicated. Now it is time to let Mr Bonnett and his team from the Seine-et-Marne Prefecture do their job.
 
The photos “Bill Leics” is referring to is the above linked photo of Disney Gazette. Should “Jan” contact us again respectively answer our e-mail we will certainly report an according update.

 

UPDATE 1:

We were able to confirm that the train can be brought to a complete stop inside the tunnel / the “bat cave”, i.e. the description by “Billy Leics” would technically be possible in this regard.

If a train is stopped in the “bat cave” it comes to a halt roughly were the bats are placed in the cave / tunnel. From this position the train can then be restarted to move into the station. We are told that it is quite common for a train to be stopped in this position if the operation of Big Thunder Mountain is interrupted (ie. BTM goes “101”). In fact the brake position in the “bat cave” is the first emergency stop after lift hill C /the brakes here are the first emergency brakes after lift hill C (where the fake rockwork supposedly fell onto the locomotive of the train).

The accident having caused damage to the tunnel portal of the “bat cave” (as seen in the photo published by DisneyGazette) and the fact that the first possible stop point for the train after lift hill C is inside the “bat cave” makes the course of events of the accident as described by “Jan” and “Bill Leics” likely. If the fake rockwork was located on the track on lift hill C and would have been flung up by the train how could have this resulted in a damage to the portal of the “bat cave”? So this seems to indicate that the fake rock actually ended up on the locomotive and then hit the portal at the entrance of the “bat cave” letting debris of the fake rock and the wooden portal fly down onto the guests.

In a situation as the one of the accident the emergency brake in the “bat cave” has to be executed by the cast members in the control room of the attraction. Therefore, the fact that the train was stopped in the tunnel indicates that the responsible cast members in the control position did check their monitors and stopped the train at the first possible position – in the “bat cave”. The cameras along the ride’s track show the cast members in the control room all lifts and all brake positions.

Finally we would like to point out, that besides the new explanation above, which indicates a prompt reaction of the cast members in charge,  everything else we hear also indicates that the cast members of Big Thunder Mountain (and all other cast members later involved) did react swiftly to the accident and the emergency in a calm and professional way. In fact the response by the cast members can – according to our information – be described as exemplary. The sole dissenting voice so far (which came to our attention) seems to be the above mentioned posts by “Bill Leics”.

As reported earlier Big Thunder Mountain will remain closed at least until the investigation by the authorities has come to an end. As the ride was supposed to be closed for a refurbishment starting at the end of this week until May 27t, 2011  it is now assumed that the earliest possible reopening date will be at the end of this scheduled refurbishment. However, the re-opening might be even further delayed depending on the official investigation, its results and / or the impact of the investigation on the refurbishment.

One Response to “Big Thunder Mountain Accident: more information or just rumors? (2nd UPDATE)”

  1. […] time it is difficult to assess how authentic some of the information actually is. For more read the latest post by our sister site DLP.info covering the accident. Share and enjoy this Disney […]

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