Tragedy on Big Thunder
Eisner and Rasulo meet with press to discuss
Friday's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad accident
Last updated and revised: 8:57 p.m. PDT Friday, September 5, 2003
by Lani Teshima and Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writers
Updated 8:57 p.m. PDT: MousePlanet confirmed
through the toll-free number that the identity of the deceased victim
is Marcello Torres of Gardena, California, a suburb of
the Greater Los Angeles area and approximately 25 miles from Disneyland.
President of Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo (left) speaks to the
press from the lectern while Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner stands
to the side. Disney held a press conference late this afternoon to provide
some details about this morning's accident at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
in Disneyland. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
President of Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo announced that Disney
has established a toll-free phone number for those wishing to find out
the status of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride after this morning's
Updated 8:33 p.m. PDT: Disney management has contacted us to notify
us that the toll-free phone number is now ready to take calls from the
public. If you call this number, you can obtain the names of those who
were injured in the accident today. In addition, if you provide them with
a name, they will either confirm or deny that that is the name is the
deceased person. MousePlanet has phoned this number, and we are happy
to report that the six individuals hospitalized earlier at UCI Medical
Center have all been released, including Vicente Guttierez, who was initially
admitted in critical condition.
In a press conference held at approximately 4:45 p.m. today, City of
Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti assured the media that those victims
transported to area hospitals have had the opportunity to phone their
families; there should be nobody who has to call the park to see if their
family was involved, except for the family members of the deceased.
Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner was also at the press conference,
and said he went to Disneyland today to lend his support to cast members
and to offer his condolences to the families of the victims of today's
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad accident.
Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner talks to the press about the Big
Thunder Mountain Railroad accident. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
For 50 years the safety and well-being of our theme park guests
and employees have been and will continue to be top priority, Eisner
said in a press conference held an hour ago at the Team Disney Anaheim
building adjacent to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
Eisner said that because the name of the deceased has not been released
and the family has not yet been notified, he has not been able to meet
When asked whether Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and other coaster attractions
are regularly inspected, Rasulo said every attraction is inspected every
morning. When asked about the nature of the inspections (for example,
whether it involve walking the track or manually verifying that pieces
were not loose) Rasulo would not specify, except to say, We have
a systematic approach to maintenance and safety.
When asked if the park attractions have triggers to engage emergency
stops in the event of a malfunction, Rasulo said all of the attractions
President of Disney Parks and Resorts Jay Rasulo at this afternoon's press
conference. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Rasulo did not comment on questions regarding any previous accidents
or malfunctions on Big Thunder. He said that the question was inappropriate
because this accident was not comparable to anything that may have happened
in the past.
Rasulo said that their first priority is to take care of the guests of
the park, the families of the victims, and the cast members who have been
affected by this accident. Disney is taking care of their medical care,
as well as counseling and whatever services they may need.
Disney is fully cooperating with the Anaheim Police Department and the
California Division of Occupational Safety and Health who are currently
on the scene.
Both Anaheim Police and the Anaheim Fire Department have secured the
location, and Rasulo said that Disneyland's technical staff has not yet
been allowed on the scene of their accident to conduct their own investigation.
Asked if any other rides were being investigated, Rasulo said that it
would be premature to do so because it is too soon to know what happened.
In addition, we do not know if this would include the Big Thunder rides
in the other Disney parks. Big Thunder is one of the attractions that
was built on all four Disney parks (California, as well as Florida, Paris,
Rasulo, who said he has been on the ride in the past three months, does
not know how long the attraction will be closed. We will not rest
until we have the facts, he said. Eisner did not respond to the
same question, although he did go on Big Thunder multiple times to film
a segment for a previous TV commercial promoting California after the
9/11 terror attacks.
When asked exactly where the accident took place, Rasulo would only comment
that it happened on the track, and not on the loading area.
Nicoletti said it happened in a tunnel, but could not specify which one.
The speculation among those close to the park, however, is that the engine
disconnected while it was going up the final lift tunnel on the ride,
where the fake rock slide is. Those who have been on the ride will probably
understand that this is the steepest portion of the ride.
City of Anaheim spokesman John Nicoletti talks about the Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad accident. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The popular ride, which goes 28 miles an hour, has a maximum capacity
of 32. Nicoletti did not know exactly how many people were on the particular
ride at the time of the accident, noting that some of the guests evacuated
on their own.
Nicoletti said that there were 10 injuries and one fatality, not 11 injuries
and one fatality as reported by some media outlets earlier. In addition,
an earlier rumor speculating that the victim was thrown from the vehicle
Of the 10, two were treated on scene, and eight were transported to either
Western Medical Center in Anaheim or UCI Medical Center.
Nicoletti said that the decedent was an adult male who was sitting in
the front car of the ride, but they have not determined whether he was
in the front or second row. When paramedics arrived, they attempted to
resuscitate him, but he died on the scene.
The body was left on the scene for four or five hours until two Anaheim
Fire Department firefighters could extricate his body.
The county coroner has taken custody of the body, but absolutely no details
have been released, including his age, where he is from, or whether his
family members had been contacted.
According to Nicoletti, officials have begun Phase I of the investigation,
which includes Anaheim P.D. and DOSH. Anaheim PD is investigating this
as a public accident, while OSHA is investigating this as an industrial
accident. Once the two organizations have completed their initial investigation,
then Disney will be included and they will work hand in hand until the
investigation is over.
Currently, the locomotive is partially separated from the rest of the
vehicle and is partially derailed. The passenger car is on the track.
Note: Professional photographers on the scene were threatened with eviction
and film confiscation.
For previous updates about this accident, please see
Text © 2003 MousePlanet, Inc, all rights reserved.
MousePlanet provides detailed coverage about the accident history
of Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster. The main page
with the most recent updates is available here.
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad experienced an accident at
approximately 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 8, 2004. Read our original breaking-news
coverage of this accident here.
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad experienced an emergency
stop on Saturday, April 3, 2004, less than a week after it reopened from the
2003 accident. No injuries were reported for this accident. Read our coverage
of this accident here.
A locomotive on the Big Thunder Mountail Railroad in Disneyland's
Frontierland broke loose at approximately 11:20 a.m. on Friday, September 5,
killing 1 man and injuring 10 others.
Our main page about the
Our extensive analysis about the cause
of the accident based on the DOSH final report (12/1/03).
Mouse Tales columnist David Koenig reports
on a ex-supervisor who blows the whistle on the ride (9/10/03)
Update coverage as Big Thunder reopens in March 2004 (3/15/04)
Media coverage and analysis of accident (9/03)
Coverage of Eisner and Rasulo press conference
on day of accident (9/5/03).
Breaking news coverage as events unfolded
on Friday afternoon (9/5/03).
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad locomotive broke loose
from the rest of the train at 11:20 a.m. on Friday, September 5, 2003.
Single fatality: Marcelo Torres (22) from Gardena,
California, of undisclosed causes.
10 injured victims, including the following, who were
transported to the University of California Irvine Medical Center:
- Vicente Gutierrez (22) from Wilmington, California, suffered
facial injuries, a broken collarbone and cracked ribs.
- William (47) and his wife Teresa (37) Smith, from North
Hills, California, suffered from bruises.
- Debra (44), her son Christopher (15), and her nephew Adrian
(9), from San Diego, suffered from bruises.
Designed and manufactured by: WED/Walt Disney Imagineering
Ride type: Mine train type roller coaster
Opened: September 2, 1979
Maximum height: 104 feet at the top of Big Thunder
Maximum capacity: 32
Height requirement: 40 inches tall (3 feet 4 inches)
Safety restraint: Single bench-wide lap bar (bench sits
Speed: 28 miles per hour
Disneyland's BTMRR was created in-house by Disney Imagineers.
The WDW version was built in 1980. The Disneyland Paris version was built in
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