Continued coverage of Disneylands
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad accident
Updated 7:30 p.m. PDT Friday, September 12, 2003
Funeral held for victim
Friday, Sept. 12 Friends and family gathered Friday to remember
22-year-old Marcello Torres, who was killed Sept. 5 in an accident on
the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Private funeral services were held
at Church of the Nativity in Torrance, where more than 100 people heard
a service conducted mostly in Spanish.
Victim bled to death
Thursday, Sept. 11 An Associated Press article reports that the
man killed on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad bled to death after being
struck in the chest by an unknown object. According to the Orange County
Coroner, Marcelo Torres, 22, suffered blunt force trauma to
the chest that fractured his ribs, leading to laceration of his lungs
that caused severe blood loss.
Former supervisor blows whistle on Big Thunder
Wednesday, Sept. 10 Former Big Thunder Mountain maintenance supervisor
Bob Klostriech talks to Mouse Tales author David Koenig about his
unsuccessful attempts to warn management about the degrading conditions
of the ride in this
Victim's family hires theme park litigation lawyer
Wednesday, Sept. 10 The family of the Marcelo Torres has hired
lawyer Wylie Aitken of Santa Ana to assist them in their own investigation
of the circumstances surrounding the victim's death. Aitken specializes
in personal injury cases, but more notably, represented the family of
33-year-old Luan Phi Dawson in the 1998 accident where the Microsoft engineer
was killed by when a metal cleat from the Sailing Ship Columbia came loose
an struck him. [That case was settled for an undisclosed around, rumored
to be upwards of $25 million.]
Tuesday, Sept. 9 The Anaheim Police Department forensics team
was at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over the weekend taking photos
and measurements. The team expects their investigation to be completed
first, because they are simply trying to rule out criminal intent. They
expect to have a preliminary report in a few weeks.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal DOSH)
is currently on the scene, as are Disney's investigators. With these organizations,
there are three independents investigations going on at the attraction
at this time.
Big Thunder Mountain layout
For those who have not ridden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad recently,
it might be difficult to envision the various hills and turns in this
ride. The following schematic, by Er The Ic, should help.
Layout of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Reprinted by permission from
Scott Wegener. For more Disneyland attraction layout drawings, visit his
site at Scottware.com.au/theme.
Cynthia Harriss internal e-mail
The following internal corporate e-mail was sent by Disneyland Park President
Cynthia Harriss to Disneyland cast members on the day of the accident
[This was posted by a reliable cast member at WDWMagic.com]:
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Fellow Cast Members:
Today a terrible tragedy occurred at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
where approximately 10 people were injured and one fatally.
We are shocked and saddened by this heartbreaking incident. Safety
is of the utmost importance for us at the Disneyland Resort, making
today even more difficult. We have been cooperating with the Anaheim
Fire Department, Anaheim Police Department and Division of Occupational
Safety and Health in their investigation.
For those of you who may have been directly affected by this incident,
we have made counselors immediately available to you. If you need to
speak with someone, please call ___________ at (___) ___-____, tell
them you are a Disneyland Resort Cast Member and you will get the care
you need. We will also have counselors available on-site Saturday, September
6, at the Cast Health Center.
Many of you have asked how you can help. Today, I ask that you join
me in extending your hearts and prayers to the individuals and families
of those affected by this tragedy. The strength and compassion of this
Cast has, and always will, lead us through difficult times.
Big Thunder Update from the September 8 Disneyland Park Update
Monday brings with it the continuation of the official investigation
into what went wrong on Friday, causing an accident that injured 10 and
killed one. As the rest of this week's update shows, despite the tragedy
everything goes on at Disneyland. That is the case here at MousePlanet
as well, as we continue our normal publishing schedule. We'll continue
to update our coverage of Big Thunder as necessary, so be sure to check
out that page for the latest information. In addition to our coverage,
we hope to use it as a clearinghouse for all information known about the
accident, so if you find any good information sources elsewhere on the
Web, please let us know about them.
Big Thunder Trail is closed, and a construction fence stretches to the
Mark Twain dock. The chain of wooden benches discourages park visitors
from approaching the fence. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Among more petty concerns about the incident is that it takes yet another
E-ticket attraction offline. The official determination of what when wrong
will probably take weeks, and will most likely require more weeks after
that to correct any issues found.
This means that for the rest of September, five E-ticket attractions
(more than half) will be down park-wide, and three of the five on the
west side will be offline (leaving only Indiana Jones and Pirates of the
Caribbean). Three of Disneyland's trademark four mountains
are out of commission, two of them indefinitely. While it seems gauche
to think about such things so soon after such a terrible accident, you
have to wonder how safety perceptions will combine with too many closed
signs to affect attendence for the next couple of months. At this point,
Haunted Mansion Holiday probably can't open soon enough for Cynthia Harriss
and her bosses.
The Big Thunder Mountain station sits empty, while the investigation continues.
Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Rumors. As the weekend passed, no new official word was given
on the cause of the accident, but information did begin to leak out from
various sources. Often, they were very different and contradicted each
other. The engine was found away from the train, the engine was found
with the train; Marcelo Torres was found in his seat, he was found on
the tracks; and so on. But the most common elements to the various versions
was that the engine portion of the train somehow became separated from
the main portion of the ride vehicle (perhaps due to an emergency stopor
e-stopcaused by something else), only to have the engine roll back
and impact the stopped rear portion.
MousePlanet has not been able to get adequate confirmation of this to
stand behind it, but did pursue technical information about the ride to
see if it was feasible. Needless to say, those people most familiar with
the current condition of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are not easy to
talk to right now. However, MousePlanet was able to confirm with a source
familiar with the original version of the ride (opened in 1979) the following
information, none of which would seem to contradict the above version
- The engine portion of the mine train serves no functional purpose,
and Big Thunder could continue to operate even if this portion was removed.
- The engine portion of the vehicle did not have its own anti-rollback
devices. Unlike the passenger portion, the engine can roll backwards
through stops specifically intended to stop such movement.
- The engine portion did not have its own mechanisms for braking, meaning
a loose engine could roll through the brake stops, even if an e-stop
had been triggered.
It is very important to note that these were true when the ride opened
24 years ago; we have not been able to confirm whether any updates affecting
these were made over the years.
The exit from Big Thunder Mountain, far right, is blocked off with yellow
barrier tape. The folded patio umbrella provides shade for security guards
stationed in the area. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Changes? Before we move on the regular portion of the update,
there is one other issue we would like to throw out there and see if our
readers can settle a point. It is known that at one time the Mark Twain
spiel included reference to Big Thunder. As of today, however, this was
not part of the spiel. The text was:
Those tracks off the port side lead to Big Thunder Mountain, site of
the biggest gold strike in these parts. But in spite of these riches,
that mine's been riddled with trouble and strange happenings for as
long as I can remember.
But none of the MousePlanet staff members are confident that it was still
there recently; it may have been removed quite a while ago. We'd like
to hear from any reader with information on this.
Ordinarily, the outdoor dining area at Rancho del Zolaco restaurant in
Frontierland has considerable natural light from the portaled adobe walls
that separate it from the Big Thunder Mountain attraction. Although the
eatery is now open, a new constuction wall now blocks the view of the
ride. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
A temporary construction wall was erected on Saturday around Big Thunder
Mountain Railroad. The Rancho del Zocalo restaurant in Frontierland, which
was closed on Friday evening, is now open, as are the Golden Horseshoe
Theater, Shooting Gallery and the stores in Frontierland.
On Friday evening, the original rope perimeter that Disneyland erected
immediately after the accident on Friday was adjusted to allow the regularly
scheduled performances of Fantasmic, a show conducted along the
Rivers of America in Frontierland. The perimeter was pushed back to open
the bottleneck area near the Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as the
connecting walkway between Frontierland to the Central Plaza hub, past
the Shooting Gallery.
The wall that has replaced the perimeter rope is a typical Disneyland
construction wall, although it looks as if it was put up in a rush.
Big Thunder Trail is closed at the Fantasyland gate (except for the Big
Thunder Ranch special event area). The construction wall extends to the
Mark Twain dock.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Big Thunder Trail, at the Fantasyland gate
- Conestoga french fry cart
- Mark Twain dock (the riverboats are running)
- Tom Sawyer Island
- Tom Sawyer Island rafts
- Rancho del Zocalo
- Rancho del Zocalo restrooms
- Shooting Gallery
- Golden Horseshoe Theater
- Stores in Frontierland
- All Frontierland entertainment, including Fantasmic and Laughing
Big Thunder suddenly went into suspended animationwhile the version
in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom has already been down for a regularly
scheduled rehab through November 22, Japanese newspaper giant Mainichi
Shimbun (The Daily Newspaper) reports that Tokyo Disneyland
officials have shut their own attraction down pending their own thorough
As of Monday morning, both the Paris and Tokyo attractions are open.
The Florida version is still in regularly scheduled rehab.
Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, Andrew Rich, Karl Buiter, Scott Wegener.
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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