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MousePlanet Mailbag for August 5, 2004

We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. Although we cannot publish them all, the following may be of interest to our readers.

Today's Mailbag continues with more reader comments regarding the July 9, 2004 accident involving Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster in Frontierland. As the third newsworthy accident in 10 months, the ride has been the focus of much concern among our readers. For more information, see our coverage of the accidents here.

Kirstin writes:

For those who want to freak out about this “accident,” keep in mind, it was a bump, not a collision like some reports would have you believe. Do people think these rides are fail-safe?! Nothing is! I think Disneyland does a great job maintaining the rides… they have to! Look at the millions of people who are there each year.

Obviously, something is wrong with Big Thunder… but, this last incident may very well be caused by the cast members who control the trains coming in and going out. Again… it was a BUMP not a full on slam… keep things in perspective. Blaming Disneyland for negligence is foolish. I am sure Disney will do a full investigation, and the problem will be fixed. I have complete faith in Disneyland, and will return to the parks next year for our 3rd trip in as many years, with my husband and our 5 sons. And, yes… we will ride Big Thunder.

Hi Kirstin – Thank you for taking the time to write.

Since you seem very sure about the bump, I have to be fair and ask, were you involved in the accident, or were you present at the ride when it occurred?

While the official statement from Disneyland was that it was a bump, I spoke to a person who said he was there, and who swears vehemently that it was a “full-on slam” and not a bump at all. We went out of our way to try to make sure the person we spoke to was a credible source, and not someone just making things up.

As you can imagine, we felt it was important to relay this information to our readers.

One issue to consider, and I believe this is serious: After the accident last year, Big Thunder should have become the safest ride in the entire park. CMs should have received more training than on any other ride, and it should have become the shining example of safety for not just Disneyland, but all major theme parks. The emergency stop this past spring, and this most recent incident, should have never happened. Even if it was caused “just” by CMs and not mechanical. This is my personal opinion, but one that has been shared by a number of readers who have offered their views.

Your comment about not blaming Disneyland for negligence is interesting. Who would you blame? The CM who performed something wrong, perhaps? What if the CM was not properly trained, or was not a very good worker? Lots of things to ponder.

Again, thanks for writing. Aloha,

– Lani Teshima

Carl writes:

We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad many times with our 7-year-old grandson Xavier during the last week of April (April 25–29) as it is his favorite ride at both parks. We again rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad many times with our 9-year-old grandson Michael and 7-year-old granddaughter Laura (and their parents) during the last week of June (June 28–July 2) as it is also their favorite ride.

All of us have no concern that the ride is unsafe. Freak accidents happen all the time… even while people are sleeping in bed at their home.

Our daughter's comments after she read MousePlanet's reports on the latest Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was, “Good Grief. How do people get to Disneyland? I have much more worry about our safety on the Freeways getting to Disneyland than I do concerning any ride at Disneyland Resort.”

We all appreciate the accurate, timely information from MousePlanet.

Phillip Stewart writes:

I am reading “News and Views” concerning the accident with Big Thunder Mountain and I have to ask, what exactly is to be gained by publishing the insensitive, hostile remarks allegedly made by park visitors to Cast Members? Is this news, or is it hearsay? Is it in some way helping the reader to understand the accident? Is it “proof” that insensitive clods visit Disneyland, too?

I don't need my Disney news sugar-coated, but if I want to read relentless anti-Disney drivel I'll go to [another Web site]. Please focus on facts that directly affect the issue in question. If your reporter actually heard people saying such stupid things, then go ask those folks what, exactly, they think that Cast Member is supposed to be doing to fix the ride. Or ask those folks “thinking about” canceling the Disneyland trip if they are so safety-conscious about every other aspect of their lives.

No, I'm not brushing aside the very real issues about this ride's safety. I'm just wondering why the reporter prints anything people say and calls it news.

Hi Phillip;

Thank you for taking the time to write and share with me your views.. While I am not the person who wrote the quotes, as the chief copy editor I am one of the individuals responsible for giving the go-ahead or removing copy submitted by our reporters.

I can forward your comments to the reporter, but I have the highest trust in our reporter that she heard those quotes from some of the park visitors. If she heard it, and she reported it, it is straight news. She is very professional, and anything she heard third-hand, she always says so.

If you read the article carefully, for example, we describe the eyewitness as claiming to be one, since we are going by the person's word, and cannot prove with photo or statements from others that the person was there. Any theories that we introduce to our readers are explicitly stated as speculation as well.

I am surprised that you think our coverage is “anti-Disney drivel.” We go out of our way to try to provide coverage from different perspectives, and I believe the section near the end of our piece, giving quotes from both concerned people, as well as those who say to wait until the final report is out, is a good example.

You do make a very good point about asking people about their thinking about changing their plans; whether they do so with other aspects of their lives. Some may not have thought about it, while others may concur that they have; for example, by avoiding rental cars that lack side impact air bags (that is one of the things I personally do).

I guess I do have a question for you. You asked why the reporter prints anything people say and calls it news. When I read the initial copy, it told me a lot. It is news when we quote and attribute the words to other people; it is an editorial when we say those things ourselves. For example, if someone says, “I'm really scared now and I don't want to go on the ride,” that is news because it conveys a person's thoughts to the reader. If, however, we were to say, “all visitors should avoid the ride,” then it is no longer news, but an editorial commentary.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions or issues.


– Lani Teshima

Phillip Stewart writes:

Dear Lani,

First, please allow me to apologize for remarks I made that offended you or the sensibilities of your fine Web site. We're both fans of Disney, we're both sticklers for accuracy, and I'm sure we'd both be friends if we knew each other. I sincerely hope that what we have here is a case of 2 people on the same side of the fence who, through the impersonal nature of e-mail, have misread tone and meaning.

I thoroughly enjoy your Web site and use it extensively when planning trips to either Disney park. The research is exhaustive in scope and accuracy. I find the things I read to be critical in a most fair way—unlike my poorly-worded comparison to [another Web site]… a site that, in my opinion, is a thinly veiled anti-Disney diatribe. I apologize for giving anyone the mistaken notion that your site is “anti-Disney drivel.” Quite the opposite.

My concerns were more along the lines of “news” as being something more relevant than simply parroting off-handed remarks of a random sample of guests. For instance, I loathe when local newscasters, instead of offering valuable commentary, simply stick a mike in peoples' faces and get irrelevant sound bites. What I should have taken the time to clearly say was that I wish the reporter would have invested the time necessary to plumb the depths of park visitors' feelings. “Yes, sir, you say you'll never ride this ride again. Can you explain to our readers exactly why you feel this way?"

Perhaps my concerns stem from my experience as a college educator and my insistence on students' work drawing a clear line between opinion and fact. If I stand in one spot long enough I am bound to find a few negatives, a few positives, and a few in-betweens. Therein lies the reason why I so enjoy your Web site—I never get the sense of a 'smattering' of opinions—your contributors share both the magic and the miscues but in ways that speak of our shared love of all that is the Disney experience.

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, and for accepting this apology. If you have already shared my 1st e-mail with the reporter, please share this one, too. And thank for helping to keep the Disney magic alive through the seemingly tireless efforts of the staff at MousePlanet.

Note: I did contact the writer about the “cat calls” by the two park visitors. My understanding is that those visitors were extraordinarily aggressive, and did not appear to welcome any feedback—from cast members, reporters, or from other park visitors.

Shelly Sandford writes:

I am, of course, disappointed that Big Thunder will be closed during my visit to Disneyland next week. But any sensible person must realize the need to ensure that the attraction is as safe as possible. I feel very sorry for the cast members that have received verbal abuse from park visitors, when all they are doing is maintaining safety procedures and providing what information they are allowed. I will make a point of stopping by next week to give them a friendly “hello.” I hope Big Thunder is up and running by August 29, when we will be visiting again. I always like to visit that dynamite chomping goat.

Sherrie writes:

My daughter and I are going to Disneyland the last week in July. Any chance Thunder Mountain will be open again by then or is it highly doubtful?

Hi Sherrie;

It's really hard to say. The word from DOSH was that they thought it might take at last two weeks, but that they weren't sure how much longer themselves.

Keep your fingers crossed!

— Lani

Note: As of the publication of this mailbag, the ride is still closed, with no word of pending reopening.

Frieda Stone writes:

It's a shame some people act out so carelessly. It's as if they are only thinking of themselves and not of the other Disney guest around. If the ride is down, go find another one that is up and running; it's not like there's a shortage of rides at Disneyland. Although I do admit three times from one ride is a bit much in such a short time span, but all you can do is close the ride, find and fix the problem and hope and pray for the best.

Have a great day.

Steve Wenzel writes:

What kind of horse's butt would scream at a cast member of Disneyland? Oh yea! It was that poor kid's fault that the trains bumped together. As for me and my family, we are going to Disneyland the end of October, and guess what? You got it—I am going to ride and ride and ride some more the Thunder Mountain roller coaster.

I wish that I would have been there when the guy yelled at the poor kid, I probably would have clocked the horse's butt!

Karen writes:

We were on vacation in the park that afternoon and were on line to ride Big Thunder when it was suddenly closed for repair. We heard that the ride reopened shortly after that and then the accident happened.. It wasn't until the following morning that we found out there was an accident. When watching the footage in our hotel room, I thought they said there was a fatality in this accident too. Is that true? When we returned to the park the next morning, personal offered nothing more than the ride will be closed today and believe it or not, hundreds of people never even knew what transpired the day before!

Hi Karen – Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt or killed in the accident you refer to. You can read more about the accident at our Big Thunder Mountain accident page (link).

Thanks for taking the time to write!

Tony writes:


There were actually about 9 people injured on the Big Thunder Mountain accident. I know this because me and my family were on the ride when we crashed into the other car accounted for three of the injuries. There were three other people that besides ourselves and the family that were hurt. My daughter and I were checked out by medical personnel and released, then my wife was checked out about an hour later due to back pain and numbness in her legs. Just wanted you guys to know that it was a little more serious than reported.

Rick Rusher writes:

Ok, I am getting very sick & tired of people dissing this great Disneyland attraction just because of these freak accidents. Get over it! You take your chances on thrill rides like this at any theme park in the world. If you're scared, stay home and read a friggin' book! I for one think dying on a D-Land ride is a prime way to go. It's either that way or dying in your “golden years” not being able to make it the toilet before you gotta take a #2. Wouldn't you rather have a quick check-out on a great D-Land ride? I mean… it's Disneyland!

So for everyone that is trying to say that Disney needs to get their stuff together had better keep it to themselves because I guarantee I'll be really ticked off if they try to force Disney to remove Big Thunder Mountain. If you want to shut something down, shut down Toontown, but better yet all you paranoid, politically-correct, roller-coaster fearing individuals… keep your friggin mouth shut! Thank you for your time and in closing let me!

Just say that Disneyland is The Happiest Place On Earth and it will survive for another 50+ years no matter what people try to do to it. God Bless Walt Disney.

David writes:

I am getting so sick of everyone complaining about the accidents on the ride. Has everyone forgotten that in the later '70s and '80s, Magic Mountain had the poorest track record of any park? They had accidents and deaths so many times that they should have been shut down completely. However they are still going strong and are better then they used.

Granted, Disney's maintenance has gotten bad over the years. They have let to much go. But remember this was under a management that had no concept of rides or theme parks. THey thought a ride was only there to get people to come in and shop and eat. Then to put someone like T. Irby in charge of maintenance when he had no experience was just ludicrous.

Yes it is very unfortunate that they have had three accidents in a year on Big Thunder. Two accidents is too many for one ride. However, I strongly believe in Disney's safety record. It speaks for them, but they do need to get maintenance back up to the level it was when I was a kid in the late 70's and 80's. It will take the new management teak a few years to get this back up. We cannot expect them to fix all of the problems overnight.

I will definitely be going on Big Thunder when it reopens. I wen t on it in May knowing it had two accidents and never had a problem or even a thought about them. I will always stand behind their record regardless of what happens. They are the greatest theme park in the world and I strongly believe that it will get back to the way it was ten years ago.

DJ Heinlein writes:

In response to the e-mail sent by Rebecca Carmichael-Stromgren and posted in the July 29 (2004) Mailbag.

The Fantasyland rides such as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride are designed to be operated on electrical tracks with predetermined stop and start points along the track. The operator only has control over dispatching the vehicles on these electrical tracks, but not stopping them. The Mr. Toad's ride was under it's DFAM (Down For Annual Maintenance) not too long ago and there is a high possibility of the braking system has been adjusted by a maintenance worker.

I used to work as an operator on a ride at LEGOland, CA with an identical operational system. We had several complaints from riders regarding the braking system of the ride and were asked to go easy on the brakes. Since the operators had no control over the stops (only the dispatches), we turned to the maintenance workers. Their response to the us as operators proved the maintenance department had the ability to adjust the stopping power of the vehicles on electrical track rides.

Ricardo writes:

After reading several letters with people's thoughts on the crashes at Big Thunder, I began to worry.

Maybe September 11th has made me wary or perhaps I just tend to think towards conspiracies, but these crashes seem a little suspicious. Of course, I have no proof, but having worked at Disneyland, I know that the guidance systems for the attractions are pretty much foolproof. The computer always stops you from doing something stupid or potentially harmful.

Having said that, there were several anomalies that I noted on Indy [the Indiana Jones Adventure ride] when I worked there. I would see cars bump each other in the station. I have seen cars emulate parts of the ride right in the middle of the station, raising up 10 feet in the air and tilting to one side while blasting music from the Overlook scene. I have seen cars jump forward when in the station, supposedly locked by a “station stop.”

Perhaps Disney should look for the “ghost in the machine.”

Art Collier writes:

In response to comments by former Imagineer Michael Strong and “absolutely no way two trains can collide” unless a maintenance problem was at issue, I must point out that any machine will break. It may very well have been a mechanical issue and not a software problem. However, the collisions did occur.

As a manager of information systems, I am often asked by end users why their computers fail. My standard answer is it's amazing they work at all. Broken computers are all I see day in an day out. Sometimes it is mechanical, other times electrical as in memory gone bad. But 80 percent of the problems I see are software-related, be it corrupted files that loaded wrong or software installations gone bad. Maybe someone did mess up a software upgrade and broke more than they fixed. Will the DOSH inspectors find the problem if it is software related? Hard to say; are they mechanical/electrical engineers looking for a a mechanical/electrical problem or software engineers looking for a fault in the code?

The Space Shuttle has five computers checking its systems, and still we have had two disasters.

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