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A behindtheears look at Disneyland
|Are you ready to tumble? Staying safe on Star Tours|
Guests on Disneyland's Star Tours feel as if they've been sent hurtling through space, nearly averting catastrophe at every turn. But in several instances over the last two months, such simulations have almost become realities.
The attraction consists of four cabins, called StarSpeeders. Though themed as commercial passenger crafts, they are actually military-style flight simulators. A system of mechanical lifts whip, jerk and shake the cabins to imitate a poorly navigated trip through outer space.
Considering the heights the cabins reach, here's a warning: if you're ever on Star Tours when it breaks down, stay seated. During one trip in late August, one of the cabins' emergency-stopped. Suddenly stranded, one guest inside panicked and tried to pry open the doors to escape. What he didn't realize was the lifts hadn't yet been lowered. The guest would have fallen eight to 12 feet into the dark.
Fortunately, a repairman from Facilities' Maintenance Response Team persuaded the guest to back off long enough for one of the lifts to be lowered. Once released, the guest ran out of the building as fast as he could. Said one cast member: "The sad part is he almost succeeded in getting the door open."
What could have happened that day did happen soon after Star Tours first opened in 1987. A maintenance man was taking a short cut through a cabin only to discover that the other door was closed. Rather than reverse his steps, he used the emergency latch to open the door and fell forward into the dark, landing on his head about eight feet below. The worker fractured his skull, but returned to work in a week.
Sure enough, about three weeks after the August incident, a Star Tours cabin again stalled, at its maximum elevation. This time, one of Cabin One's lifts got hung up at the ceiling. Fortunately, the guests were safely evacuated, although the cabin remained stranded. The Maintenance Response Team left it for the graveyard shift to rescue. But when the third shift machinists arrived, they discovered that the highest manlift they could get into Star Toursat 24 feet highwas about 12 feet too short. Management had to call a rental agent to send a taller, 36-foot unit immediately. Immediately proved to be 9:15 the next morning, after the park had opened.
A closer call occurred soon after when contractors came to replace power equipment on the attraction. They first had to make sure of the motor's voltage, so they used the aforementioned 24-foot manlift to reach the air conditioning system's chilled water lines that run along the ceiling. Then, they perilously walked along the water lines to get into position to check the voltage.
"Had they fallen," says one insider, "the company would have skated out of court. They've been trained NOT to do that! Some people just don't quite understand what they risk when they do things like this."
Now comes word that even people who don't do anything stupid may be in danger. Due to Star Tours' turbulent nature, cabins Two, Three and Four are all cracked. Cracks run from the forward lower corner and angle up towards the back. Although the cracks have been inspected, their severity is still being determined.
With tighter maintenance budgets, crewman are increasingly pessimistic. "I hear the tops of the cabins are the only thing keeping the fronts from falling off," says one. "Workmen wonder how long they will last--or do we have another Columbia brewing?"
You can write to David atthis link..
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.
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