Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Six Flags Great Adventure's Legacy of Death

Usually the subjects covered here are light and fun. This one isn't and I am sorry for that.

When I talk about theme parks around the country people invariably bring up "that really dangerous park in NJ." They are always talking about Action Park, an amusement park in Vernon, NJ. The internet is full of photos of the dangerous looking water slides and the park's poorly run and dangerous conditions inspired a film by Johnny Knoxville.

However, there was a far more dangerous park in NJ. Action Park was opened for less than 20 years (1978-1996) and there were a least six deaths that occurred there. 

Six Flags Great Adventure once killed 8 teenagers in less than 20 minutes.

I don't mean to be glib or make light of this. Theme parks deaths are avoidable. No one should go to a place of entertainment and never return home.

Currently Six Flags Great Adventure is promoting 30-hour Six Flags Coffin Challenge. This is an event where they see if guests can spend 30 hours in a coffin. 

Remarkably tone deaf for a park responsible for the deadliest theme park accident of all time.

Great Adventure opened in 1974, Six Flags took over the park in 1977. According to a few articles attached there were TWO roller coaster fatalities, three days apart, in 1977 - likely under the previous ownership. I haven't found much on these deaths other than mentions in articles on other deaths at the park

Then in 1981 an employee fell 42 feet from a roller coaster called Rolling Thunder in a routine morning test.

1984 saw the horrific fire at the Six Flags Great Adventure.

Wikipedia sums it up "On May 11, 1984, a fire destroyed the attraction, trapping and killing eight teenaged visitors. Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company Six Flags were indicted for aggravated manslaughter and accused of recklessly causing the deaths by taking inadequate precautions against a fire. In the trial, the prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke or fire alarms had been ignored. The defendants denied any culpability, and contended that the fire was arson and that no amount of precautions would have saved lives. The trial jury found the defendants not guilty.

The two park executives charged separately with manslaughter avoided trial and possible imprisonment by entering a pretrial intervention program that allowed them to perform community service.
The families of four of the victims filed civil suits against Bally Manufacturing, the owner of Six Flags; Six Flags Great Adventure; and the Castle's builder, George Mahana, the owner of Toms River Haunted House Company, charging manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter. New York City Board of Education, the State of New Jersey, Ocean County and Jackson Township were also included in the various suits.[31] Seven of the eight families later settled out of court for $2.5 million each; the eighth family chose to go to trial and was awarded $750,000."

Many criticized the park for blaming the victims.


Three years later Six Flags made the news again after gunfire and stabbings:

Then in 1987 Six Flags Great Adventure caused the death of a teen when they started a roller-coaster before she was harnessed in.

There hasn't been a roller coaster death at Six Flags Great Adventure since then, but it sounds like one was narrowly avoided in 2015:

"On September 13, 2015, a girl from Gibbstown, New Jersey was injured when her safety restraints came undone as the ride started. As she exited the ride, it was shut down for technical difficulties. Two years later in 2017, her family filed a lawsuit to the park claiming that the staff didn't check them before they were secure" source Wikipedia.