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David Koenig
Mansion Accident -3/26 Update

Additional information on the Haunted Mansion accident has come to light since the original story on this page was posted on 3/23.  The original report (which included a write-up on the Tom Sawyer Island raft fire) follows immediately after the update with some new photos.

The Haunted Mansion injury March 18 appears to be a freak accident. Evidently, the injured guest was not a disabled passenger, but a small child who was part of a larger group that included a person in a wheelchair.

Guests in wheelchairs load and unload at the end of the load belt, remain in their Doom Buggies when they get to the unload belt and travel back to the load area. While traveling from Unload to Load, the boy presumably hung on to the side of the car and leaned out of his vehicle to look at his relatives in the buggy behind him. His mother was in the buggy with him, but didn't prevent him from leaning out to look behind.

Just as his buggy was about to make the turn into the load area and descend the ramp that travels beneath the big, green spiderweb, he hit his head on the edge of a short wall adjacent to the track. The boy reportedly suffered a three-inch gash on his temple, and was taken to the hospital for stitches. He was conscious, and the paramedics were called off when the Disneyland nurses assesed the situation.

The Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion

The short wall has been there since the attraction was built, and is relatively close to the vehicles on the right hand side. When the Mansion was built in the late 1960s, the designers didn't think that anyone would need to travel backstage from unload to load, since in those days very little thought was given to guests in wheelchairs.

The Mansion closed at 9 p.m. Sunday night, and reopened around noon on Monday. The state safety investigators came out and signed the attraction off after an inspection. Disneyland Facilities installed foam padding on the edge of the wall, in case someone else leans out and bangs their head. Cast members anticipate that when the Mansion closes in September to add "Nightmare Before Christmas" Halloween themeing, the wall will be torn out and pushed back as a precaution against future accidents.

Nonetheless, employees are convinced that if the child had remained seated or his mother had prevented him from leaning out of the vehicle, the accident would never have happened.

Holy Smokes! -3/23 Original Report

Tom Sawyer Island raft in operation
Tom Sawyer Island raft in operation

Hectic weekend at Disneyland climaxes with a Tom Sawyer Island raft bursting into flames.

Enticed by sunny weather and the chance to once again buy annual passes, crowds returned to Disneyland last weekend en masse—magnifying staffing problems, maintenance issues and safety concerns.

Come Monday morning, the problems lingered. The park opened at 9:00 a.m. with several attractions short-staffed, the Haunted Mansion closed following an accident the day before, and a Tom Sawyer Island raft refusing to start.

By about 11:00 a.m., 50 or so guests had lined up in front of the dock, waiting for the raft ride to open. Members of the park's Safety Department, though, insisted that no guests be allowed on the island until they had the chance to conduct a quick inspection. The safety personnel waited on the "Injun Joe" raft, while an operator tried to start up the "Tom Sawyer." As the operator fiddled with the controls, the raft began to smoke profusely. The raft driver flipped open the engine compartment—unleashing a barrage of flames.

Raft engine cover and controls -note fire extinguisher
Raft engine cover and controls. Note fire extinguisher

The operator scrambled off the raft and headed for a fire extinguisher. A second cast member ran onto the dock and grabbed another extinguisher. The two hosts sprayed the engine, blasting white powder everywhere, including into the river. The whole time, the Safety Department watched as dumbfounded as the guests.

As the smoke dissipated, the two ride operators ceased fire. But, within a few seconds, the flames lit up again. This time, they both thoroughly doused the engine until they had emptied their extinguishers.

In the meantime, most of the guests had fled in search of safer attractions. A few onlookers remained, pointing and gaping: "Oh my God! That thing just caught on fire!"

When the coast was clear, the wide-eyed Safety Department personnel climbed onto the raft and peered into the blackened engine compartment—white powder everywhere. One Safety expert was heard advising the ride operator, "You should have given it more choke." (The raft's engine, of course, runs on a natural gas, so it has no choke, just a throttle.)

The rafts have even been the subject of a collector's pin
The rafts have even been the subject of a collector's pin

It took about 30 minutes to tow the Tom Sawyer to the Hungry Bear dock so maintenance could inspect it. One maintenance man speculated, "Apparently, the seals on the distributor failed, and oil got up into the distributor cap. I'm told that these engines are running hot to begin with, so this only makes it more likely that the oil would ignite."

Another Facilities crewman explained, "It was leaking oil on the distributor cap, and it finally caught on fire. We'd been having trouble with that leak for a while."

Later in the day, maintenance installed a new distributor cap, replaced the burned electrical equipment, and pronounced the Tom Sawyer ready for service. It then rejoined the Injun Joe hauling guests across the river. Unfortunately, nothing was evidently done to correct the oil leak that could have caused a natural gas explosion.

Meanwhile, the same morning, 100 feet away, the Haunted Mansion remained locked as the park tried to figure out how a disabled guest was injured on the ride the day before. Handicapped riders, to avoid the moving walkway, board the Doom Buggies in a separate backstage area, about 50 feet before other guests board. On Sunday, according to Cal-OSHA spokesman Dean Fryer, "somewhere along this 50-foot section of the ride, the passenger struck their head on we don't know what and suffered a small cut on their head that required some stitches."

Park security immediately secured the ride. Not even the attraction's third shift maintenance crew was allowed to enter. They couldn't reach their tools, work orders or the computers on which they log their time. Supposedly, that night they got paid for 10 hours of "hanging out."

When the park opened the next morning, the call went out that Mansion was code 100 (delayed opening) due to "Maintenance still on the attraction." It must have been a ghostly crew, considering the regular Facilities employees were barred from even entering the building.

The Mansion opened about noon. Cal-OSHA, in the meantime, opened its own investigation, and said the park has agreed to make any necessary alterations to the ride.

Something has to change. After the hectic weekend, one beleaguered cast member moaned, "Everything's falling apart."

Mansion Accident


David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.

After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.

He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.

You can contact David here.


Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)


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Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.

Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)

Click Here to Pay Learn MoreAmazon Honor System

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