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10 Major Malfunctions At Disney Parks

by Shannon Quinn
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Disney has designed a system for their amusement parks that usually runs very smoothly. People love returning to Disney World and Disneyland every single year because there is so much to do and see.

However, the sheer magnitude of the number of rides and attractions, combined with the millions of people who come in and out of the parks each year, the odds are that something will inevitably go wrong. Here are ten major malfunctions that happened at Disney Parks.

10The Not-So-Magic Carpet Ride

Aladdin Carpet Malfunction.wmv

At Disney parks, live musical shows reenact some of the most famous scenes from animated films. Kids love watching their favorite “real” characters on stage. Usually, the live performance has some sort of show-stopping feature that amazes everyone in the theater. In the case of “Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular,” there is a “real” magic carpet that lifts in the air during the song “A Whole New World.”

In September of 2011, the illusion was shattered when the actors were lifted up and, suddenly, the supports snapped. The carpet flipped upside-down, and the actors were dangling from a single harness, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Audience members quickly pulled out their phones to record video and photos, while shouting, “Hold on!” and “Please catch them! Please!” The lights dimmed, and a pre-recorded voice asked the audience to leave. Thankfully, the safety harnesses were strong enough to hold the actors. They were rescued without any injuries.[1]

9Faulty Float Maintenance

Jaime and Elena Boruchovas traveled all the way from Uruguay to visit Disney World in Orlando Florida in 1991 for their wedding anniversary. They were watching a parade on Main Street, USA, when the driver of the Snow White float lost control and hit the curb. One of the dwarves went flying into the crowd, snagging some of the lights from the float along with them. Everything came crashing down on Elena. The light bulbs from the float were so hot that she received severe burns on her leg. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed skin graft surgery.

While they were in the hospital, a representative from Disney World showed up to Elena’s room. They handed the couple a measly $1,222 (which was probably a refund for their stay at the park) and a contract that absolved Disney of any responsibility for Elena’s injury. The only problem is, the paperwork was in English, and Jaime and Elena only spoke Spanish. When they returned to Uruguay, Elena’s leg got worse, and it was painful for her to walk. She continued to need medical treatment for her leg, and it completely changed her life. A lawyer eventually helped them sue Disney, and they won $100,000 because the judge agreed that the contract was not valid when they had no understanding of what it said.[2]

8Self-Absorbed Safety Hazard

In 2015, “selfie sticks” became a fad. People use them with their phones to take photos and videos with all of their friends. However, it would be incredibly stupid to pull a selfie stick out on a roller coaster that dips at fast speeds and loops upside-down, because it would most likely fly out of the person’s hand and injure or even kill someone.

In June 2015 common sense did not stop one park guest from pulling out their selfie stick on the California Screamin Roller Coaster. Once park employees spotted the selfie stick, they completely stopped the roller coaster while guests were already in the air, just before it had a chance to drop. For two hours, park guests were suspended in the roller coaster, and there was an emergency evacuation. The name of the selfie stick owner was left out of the media, which usually indicates that they were a minor.[3]

Since this incident, Disney parks have made it very clear that guests are not allowed to use selfie sticks because they are a distracting safety hazard. Now, there are “No Selfie Stick” signs all over the parks.

7Lane Graves

It was a warm evening in June at Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort in Orlando. The Graves family were visiting from a small town in Nebraska on a Disney World vacation. It was 9:30 at night and everyone was sitting outside to watch the fireworks. They would have never known that it is dangerous to be around lakes at night in Florida, so they allowed their two-year-old son Lane to play near the edge of Disney’s Seven Seas Lagoon. It is a man-made lake in the middle of a luxurious resort, so while his parents were keeping an eye on him to make sure he didn’t go in the water, they never could have anticipated what happened next.

Out of the darkness, an alligator snatched the toddler up and pulled him into the water. Lane’s father immediately sprinted towards his son and tried to wrestle the alligator, but it was futile, and the creature pulled his son underwater. The next day, scuba divers found and killed five alligators from the lake before they could recover Lane’s body.[4]

6A Few Too Many

Certain areas of Disney parks serve beer and wine at their restaurants, and they even designate certain locations for drinking, like Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, which stops allowing children after 8:00 p.m. Considering that it is mainly a place for families and children, most people hold back from heavy drinking. It does not make a lot of sense to pay hundreds of dollars for a Disney experience just to get black-out drunk . . . Except in the case of one 53-year-old man named Glenn Horlacher—that is exactly what he did.

In February 2012 Glenn Horlacher was visiting Disney’s California Adventure, and he got completely wasted. He was standing outside of The Tower of Terror, apparently being loud and vulgar. Glenn was asked to stop by an employee because he was disturbing nearby families. Glenn responded by throwing punches. A few visitors to the park jumped to hold him back. He continued to yell, kick, and act violently. Someone pulled out their phone and started recording, just as a Disney security guard calmly approached and pepper sprayed Glenn in the face. Glenn Horlacher was escorted out of the park and arrested for assaulting the park employee.[5]

5The Unmarked Van

Disney does not want anything to ruin their magical image. Whenever something goes wrong, they try to handle it as discreetly as possible. In 1981, an 18-year-old named Mel Yorba was at a private party in Tomorrowland. He got into a fight with a 28-year old man named James O’Driscoll. Things escalated quickly, and James stabbed Mel.

Instead of calling 911, park employees called in a Disneyland nurse. Security brought Mel over to a black unmarked van, and the nurse, who was arguably unqualified to treat a stab wound, drove him to the hospital, but he died. Mel’s parents sued Disney, claiming that if they had just called 911 in the first place, there would have been highly trained paramedics giving him the proper medical attention immediately, and he may still be alive. They lost the court case for “lack of evidence.”

In a New York Times article from 1981, Disney publicly denied that they chose not to call 911 as a way to protect their image, and they honestly felt like they gave Mel Yorba adequate medical treatment. However, in 2000, it was actually proven in court that their policy was, in fact, aimed at protecting Disney’s image. Employees were taught that if anyone got injured, they must call security guards first, instead of 911.

After the tragic mutilation and eventual death of four-year-old Brandon Zucker, the family sued Disney, and they finally changed their employee policy so that 911 is called right away.[6]

4It’s a Rough World, After All

Disneyland opened in 1955, and one of its first popular attractions was “It’s A Small World.” Back in the 50s, there were very few places that thought about the needs of disabled people, and even in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was created, companies usually only upgraded things that were absolutely necessary to comply with the new law.

The very vintage “It’s a Small World” ride broke down several times on March 28, 2013, and yet park employees did not shut it down. They kept trying to make small fixes, before reopening it to let in more passengers. A quadriplegic man named Jose Martinez was in one of the boats, and he and his wife entered a dark cave filled with speakers blaring loud music. Suddenly, the ride jolted to a stop. Since he was in his wheelchair, the maddening “It’s a Small World” song was blaring directly into Jose’s ear. And, as he is paralyzed, he could not escape.[7]

On top of his paralysis, Jose suffers from panic attacks, combined with a condition called dysreflexia, which causes sudden spikes in blood pressure. The darkness, loud music, and inability to evacuate were an excruciating combination for Jose. For 30 minutes, he was calling for help, pleading to be taken off the ride, or turn the music off, at the very least. But there was no way to get him out of the tunnel since he is in a wheelchair. In retrospect, the situation could have been far worse, but the point of the entire experience is that Disney was not prepared to help.

Jose Martinez and his family sued Disney, trying to get them to change their evacuation policies for disabled park guests. The judge awarded Jose $8,000 for his emotional suffering but chose not to force Disney to change anything, except to warn disabled people next time, if a ride was having issues.

3The “Anti-Vaccer” Outbreak

In 2015, an 11-year-old child whose parents refused to vaccinate their kids caught measles. Then, they took a trip to Disneyland. This child became patient zero of what ended up becoming a country-wide epidemic, and it all started one day in the park.

The Center for Disease control was able to track down 125 people who caught measles after “patient zero” entered the park. Out of those 125 people, 39 of them were visiting Disneyland that day, and 34 of them were family members who caught it once an infected person returned home from Disney. A total of 110 of them lived in California, so many of these people caught it randomly once the virus was out in public. The vast majority of the people who caught measles were never vaccinated, either. While none of this was Disney’s fault, it still became a major incident in the park’s history, and it is an illustration of how quickly an epidemic can begin in a place with so many people.[8]

2Look Out Below

Disney’s Skyway ride was a gondola lift that suspended park guests as high as 60 feet off the ground. People rode along the cable to the opposite side of the park. It was seen as a convenient method of transportation that ran all day, every day. In 1994, a 30-year-old man named Randle Charles fell from the Skyway when it was 20 feet off the ground, and he landed in a tree. The park rescue team had to get him down, and he was taken to the hospital with a few minor injuries. He tried to sue Disney for $25,000, claiming that the Skyway was dangerous and that he fell out.

Later, he admitted that he actually opened the door and jumped out on purpose, so the case was dropped. The Skyway was eventually removed from Disneyland, but the reasons for its removal had nothing to do with the Randle Charles incident.[9]

1To Infinity and Beyond

For years, if an accident happened on a ride in a Disneyland park, the company was not required to report it to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, (or Cal-OSHA for short). In 1997, Cal-OSHA discovered that 7,260 people were admitted to the emergency room for injuries due to amusement park ride malfunctions, which was significantly higher than previous years. Because of this, they passed a state law that amusement parks need annual safety inspections on all of their rides, and incidents where people are hurt need to be reported within 24 hours.

The first incident at Disneyland that was reported to Cal-OSHA was a crash on Space Mountain in the year 2000. One of the cars derailed after a wheel flew off, and nine people had to go to the hospital. A man named Ray Gomez was crushed inside of his seat, and the fire department had to remove bolts from the ride just to get him out. Unlike past quick-fixes performed by unqualified mechanics, Disney actually closed down the ride for several days and hired professionals who could make sure the issues were repaired, because they knew OSHA would be hearing about it.[10]

Disney is known for its discretion, pay-offs to keep quiet, and down-playing of park incidents. Knowing that they did not have to report incidents for nearly 50 years, one can only imagine how many major malfunctions took place at Disneyland that the world will never know.

Shannon Quinn is an entrepreneur and writer. You can find her on Twitter @ShannQ

fact checked by Jamie Frater