THE designer of a water slide on which a 10-year-old boy was decapitated said during testing that he “didn’t know whether he was going
THE designer of a water slide on which a 10-year-old boy was decapitated said during testing that he “didn’t know whether he was going to survive” a run on the ride.
John Schooley is one of two co-owners of the Schlitterbahn theme park in Kansas City, where Caleb Schwab was killed while riding the Verrückt water slide in August 2016.
The slide, whose name was German for “insane”, had received national media attention in the US when it opened in July 2014, and at 168 feet was accredited as being the tallest water slide in the world.
Caleb, son of Republican state representative Scott Schwab, was killed when his raft became airborne over the slide’s 50-foot hump and collided with a metal bar supporting a safety net above.
The two people with whom he was riding suffered minor injuries.
Since the ride’s closure, it has emerged that concerns about its safety long predated the accident, with former employees saying that both ride inspections and staff training were inadequate.
Schooley and fellow co-owner Jeff Henry originally faced charges of involuntary manslaughter and a number of others over Caleb’s death, but the charges were dropped in February owing to “improper evidence and testimony”.
‘WE DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE GOING TO SURVIVE’
In a new documentary, The Water Slide, produced by the Atlantic, footage taken after Schooley took part in a test run on the ride shows him saying: “That was truly exciting.
“Because we really didn’t know whether we were going to survive it or not.
“Usually on a ride, it might be scary, but you figure that they have it figured out.
“And we didn’t know whether we had it figured out or not.”
Footage in the documentary shows rafts filled with sand bags repeatedly becoming airborne during testing.
Court documents also reveal that a team of experts who inspected the slide after Caleb’s death found “physical evidence that indicated that other rafts had gone airborne and collided with the overhead hoops and netting before the fatality.”
An engineering firm hired to inspect the ride one week before its opening also issued a report that “guaranteed that rafts would occasionally go airborne in a manner that could severely injure or kill the occupants.”
‘EXPERTS ADVICE WAS INCORRECT’
Other footage taken during the ride’s development shows Henry saying: “Every bit of advice we’ve been given from the brightest brains and the smartest engineers, mathematicians, just have not been correct.”
The original opening of the ride, later attended by the governor of Kansas and the mayor of Kansas city, was also delayed at one point due to safety concerns.
During their trial, the state alleged that Schooley and Henry had rushed the ride’s construction, skipped “fundamental steps in the design process,” and relied “almost entirely on crude trial-and-error methods” for safety testing.
Speaking about the safety measures that were in place at the park, one former employee said: “The only inspections we’ve ever done is just people riding down slides one time, saying ‘Oh, it’s okay. You’re good to go for the rest of the day now.’”
Tyler Miles, the operations manager of the park, had reportedly received 17 separate staff reports during the 2015 and 2016 summer seasons about how the raft in which Caleb was riding when he died required maintenance, including five in that week alone.
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An indictment filed later alleged that the raft had “a propensity for going abnormally fast and going airborne more frequently than other rafts”.
Kansas law required parks like Schlitterbahn to inspect features of its rides like seatbelts, brakes, and safety barricades daily but, unlike other states, no state agencies did the inspections, they aren’t made public, and reports do not have to be turned over to the state.
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