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BREAKING NEWS: Accident on Big Thunder

Frontierland ride to be down for weeks; human error cited

Updated 1:30 p.m. PDT Friday, July 9, 2004

Less than a year after the tragedy on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride killed a man and injured 10 others, the attraction was the site of yet another accident tonight.

This photo really shows the separation between passenger cars 2 and 3. We do not know if this happened before, during or after the accident. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Disneyland spokesman Bob Tucker told MousePlanet, "Late this afternoon two cars bumped into one another. In an abundance of caution, the attraction is closed. DOSH (the Division of Occupational Safety and Health) has been notified."

This shows the position of the only train visible on the scene. This train looks to have been heading into the right side of the station. There is no second train visible anywhere on stage. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Tucker said that Disney is working with DOSH to investigate the incident, and does not know when the ride would reopen.

Four investigators standing around the train. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The accident scene is completely visible from outside the attraction, with a clear view from the Rancho Del Zocalo restaurant in Frontierland. For this reason, the two rows of tables nearest the wall adjacent to the ride is currently off-limits, with "reserved" signs on them, and Disneyland managers making sure that nobody tries to sit there.

Cast members standing at the entrance tell park guests that the ride is closed for the rest of the night. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The ride was closed immediately after the accident. Members of Disney security and managers who are ringing the perimeter of the Big Thunder attraction area, are telling guests, "The ride is closed. Keep moving," in order to prevent rubberneckers. They are telling park guests to expect the ride to be down for the rest of the night.

Two rows of tables around Big Thunder were blocked off. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The helicopter footage from station KCAL 9 appears to show what looks like a train in the right side of the station, and a second train entering the right side of the station. In other words, it looks like the track switch might have failed, sending both trains into the same station. Note that the existence of the second train is not visible from the ground level outside the attraction. In addition, the footage does not show a collision between two trains, making it possible that the attraction experienced a switching error as one train arrived into the station.

The train involved in the accident is clearly visible from the Rancho Del Zocalo restaurant in Frontierland. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

Updated 1:30 p.m. July 9: A MousePlanet source familiar with prior Big Thunder Mountain accidents confirms that there were two trains involved in the accident. The accident occured when one train was sent into the right side of the station, striking another train that was already in the station.

This source tells us that preliminary internal accident reports cite human error as the cause of the accident, although it is unclear exactly what caused the train to be sent into the wrong side of the station.

Dean Fryer from the Division of Occupational Safety and Health tells MousePlanet that the ride will remain closed for at least a few weeks while DOSH completes its investigation of the accident.

The DOSH investigation will include a mechanical inspection of the ride, review of the training and proceedures in place at the attraction, and interviews with cast members and witnesses.

When the investigation is complete, DOSH will release a report of its findings, and list any corrective action Disney may need to take. Fryer said that DOSH will not release the ride until it is satisfied that the ride is safe to operate.

NBC4 out of Los Angeles reported that an 11-year-old boy complained of neck injury, but was not transported to a hospital.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that three people suffered minor back and neck pain, and quoted Maria Sabol, Anaheim Fire Department spokeswoman, as saying, "A 10-year-old boy, a 44-year-old woman and a 42-year-old man were transported by private ambulance to a local area hospital after an accident on the roller coaster about 5:05 p.m."

Regular readers of MousePlanet and Disneyland park afficionados will probably remember that there as another accident on Saturday, April 3 of this year, less than a week after it reopened after the September 2003 accident.

MousePlanet will continue cover this accident as more details become available.

Coverage by:

Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, Tony Phoenix, Lani Teshima, Karl Buiter.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact us here.



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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