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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.

PHOTO: Jay Rasulo (left) and Michael Eisner.
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 fatal accident.

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.

PHOTO: Jay Rasulo.
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 with them.

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 have triggers.

PHOTO: Jay Rasulo.
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, and Tokyo).

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.

PHOTO: Jay Rasulo.
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 is untrue.

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 page 1.

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 accident (9/13/01).
• 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)
• Our Park 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 Peak

• Maximum capacity: 32

• Height requirement: 40 inches tall (3 feet 4 inches) [correction]

• Safety restraint: Single bench-wide lap bar (bench sits two)

• 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 1992.


Discuss this incident on our MousePad discussion board.

Submit info: We update this page as news becomes available. If you have some news to share, contact Lani Teshima.

Comments? If you have some comments about the accident or about our coverage, please write to our MousePlanet Mailbag.


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