The Ugly American: My Kid's Favorite, Awful Roller-Coaster Accidents

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My daughter loves roller coasters so much that she’ll try her best to scare other people out of the line in front of her so she doesn’t have to wait so long to ride them. These stories have a fairly common theme—decapitation—and are exaggerated for effect. Here are her most effective urban-legend roller-coaster disaster stories, followed by the sad facts that inspired them.


“Did you hear how some guy got his head chopped off by a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia! This actually happened! I was there! [No, she wasn’t.] I swear I was there! [Again, no.]”

Sad Fact: Yes, there was a teenager who lost his hat while riding the Batman Ride at Six Flags over Georgia. Afterward he decided to jump the fence and venture into the restricted area around the ride to try and retrieve his hat. That mistake literally got him his head kicked clean off his shoulders. This particular ride seats passengers so that their legs dangle below them, and the girl who knocked his head off shattered the bones in her leg in the process. Plenty of comedians joke about this incident as an example of Darwin’s process, but personally I think the keep-out signs should have been more descriptive of the dangers, if you ask me. There should have been color photographs of headless people to convey the true price paid for ignoring them.


“Did you hear how some girl got both her feet chopped off by a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia! This actually happened! I saw it happen! [No, she didn’t.] The blood spray covered the whole park practically. [It probably did, but how would she know because she wasn’t there.]”

Sad Fact: This incident happened at Six Flags Kentucky (not Georgia), and the offending ride wasn’t a roller coaster, but a Tower of Power: one of those terrifying machines that takes you 25 floors high and then drops you like a sack of cement only to (hopefully) bounce you softly up and down until you descend sweetly back to earth on a fluffy pillow of fun. This incident proved an exception when some cables snapped and whipped around like razor-sharp tentacles all the way down, severing the feet of a poor female passenger. Now, whenever I go to amusement parks, which is often as my daughter is a roller-coaster junkie, I’m constantly scanning the sky for flying severed feet. You have to be on the lookout.


“Did you hear about the roller coaster in Japan the derailed and decapitated everybody in the park? It’s true. (It’s not true.] I read it on the internet. [Translation: Not true.] There were pictures. [I’m sure there were. Still not true.]”

Sad Fact: The truth here is actually more terrifying than the tall tale upon which it’s based: At a theme park in Osaka, Japan, in 2007, an entire roller-coaster train derailed from its tracks and killed one person, sending many more to the hospital. The terrifying part is that following the accident, it was uncovered that the roller coaster’s axles hadn’t been changed since the park opened 15 years prior. Then when the park re-opened after the accident, there were more axles discovered that were in even worse condition than those that caused the disaster. So yeah, this is the one that got me to get out of line.

Photo: v i p e z, CC-BY

Hollis Gillespie is Paste Travel’s The Ugly American columnist. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, which is on bookstore shelves now. Follow her on Twitter.