Amputee Leah Washington, doctors, rescuers detail efforts following Smiler accident

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Leah Washington, 18, lost her leg in horror Alton Towers crash. Now, she tells her heartbreaking story and reveals how her young life has been changed forever.

Read more from The Daily Mail.

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kpjb's avatar

Putting faces to these stories always makes it more real for me.


Jeff's avatar

Definitely. I think the most troubling thing about it is that it took them so long to get them out. I mean, did that affect the outcome in terms of the amputation? The doctor seemed to imply that he knew at the scene they would have to take it, but at what point did he believe that? What an awful and wholly preventable thing.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog

That was hard to read. I've been on the scene of a couple of amusement park accidents, fortunately neither of which led to traumatic injury. That said, the panic and uncertainty...along with the sense of horrible. Kudos to the emergency personnel who saved this young woman's life.

bjames's avatar

I can't believe it took them four hours to get her out (not including the time it took them to get there). That's extremely problematic. Not that I think a faster response time could have saved her leg, but she almost died of blood loss on that thing. They're talking about using a tourniquet on her which is what they teach us to use in the army if someone has serious hemorrhaging in a limb.

So who is responsible in this lapse? The park? Or Gerstlauer?

"The term is 'amusement park.' An old Earth name for a place where people could go to see and do all sorts of fascinating things." -Spock, Stardate 3025

rollergator's avatar

I can't help but think about the commandment "first do no harm."

Can't begin to imagine the pain and frustration of the riders trapped on that car. But I don't believe that anyone did anything that would have delayed their extrication from the ride vehicle - the rescuers don't want to do ANYTHING that might make a horrific situation even worse. My heart goes out to all of those involved.

Vater's avatar

When a paramedic is quoted as saying it was like "playing Jenga with human beings," it's not that surprising it would take several hours. I imagine it wasn't too unlike a surgical procedure to ensure the riders were as intact as possible while removing them from the wreckage.

Raven-Phile's avatar

Honestly, the more I hear about this, the more I'm thinking (maybe hoping) that the ride is dismantled and doesn't reopen.

I know it's kind of a drastic thing to hope for, but I just think there's too much damage already done.

Tommytheduck's avatar

I feel the exact opposite of your last statement Josh. I read the entire article, and my heart broke for the families involved. However, as horrible as this accident was, it was also entirely preventable. There is nothing wrong with the ride itself, besides perhaps that there was no front end "bumper," which can probably be easily retrofitted. As far as we know, since an official report has not been released yet, it was caused by some combination of human errors in the operation and mechanical errors in the safety programming (blocking?) of the ride. (assuming at some point that the computer lost track of the stalled train mid-course and indicated that the ride was safe to dispatch.)

To say that the ride should be dismantled because there were preventable human and mechanical errors is knee-jerk. The same logic could be used to say that all of the GM cars affected by the ignition debacle (mechanical error - ignore the other aspects, which are un-related) should be crushed into cubes rather than fixed. Or that after the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco (human error) that all Boeing 777's should never be flown again.

I'm making comparisons to different industries because I don't want to turn this thread into a debate over all of the different coaster accidents.

An upgrade to the safety systems (I do not claim to know how these work, so I'll just say "make them work better than they worked here") and perhaps better pre-opening checklists (make sure all trains are accounted for before re-opening the ride, etc) could probably prevent a similar accident on this ride and all rides in the future.

*EDIT* Not to mention, think of the precedent it will set, if every time a coaster has a serious accident, even a non-lethal one, that it gets shut down permanently and scrapped.

*EDIT #2* Yes, I'm aware that Smiler has had other problems in the past.

Last edited by Tommytheduck,
Raven-Phile's avatar

Actually, that same logic doesn't work. I didn't say that all Gerstlauer coasters should be dismantled, or that all multi-loopers should be scrapped. I said that this particular ride has enough going against it, that I don't think we'll ever see it run again.

If your particular GM car suffered from the ignition debacle, you'd get rid of it - you wouldn't crush all GM cars.

The thing is, WE know these rides are inherently safe, and that this could have been human error - but we are a small portion of the park going public. I'm sure, even if the ride reopens, there won't be many people wanting to ride it for some time.

Tommytheduck's avatar

I didn't say "crush all GM cars." I said "crush all GM cars affected by the ignition switch defect," which is only slightly less ridiculous.

If I owned one of those cars, I would first take a good hard look at my life, and then I would take it to the dealer, as directed by the recall, and have it fixed. I wouldn't get rid of something I paid a lot of money for, might still owe on, and then go pay a bunch more money for a new car, when the solution is to safely repair what I already have. (Not to mention, GM is repairing them at no cost, as they should.)

The public will get over their fear of Smiler, if they have one at all. They will understand that it was an accident. Most likely the biggest change in the public's view of the Smiler will be the captions posted under their selfies. People get over their negative perceptions very quickly these days.

Last edited by Tommytheduck,
Raven-Phile's avatar

I still think you're thinking too much like a coaster fan, and not enough like the general park going population.

This isn't a case of derailing or ejection because someone was too big. This was a mid-course high-speed collision that was very out in the open, caught on video, and left people stranded for hours. Not to mention the loss of limbs and whatnot.

This has more in common with the Kentucky Kingdom drop tower than we'd like to admit, only it took a LOT longer to get to the riders. That ride never did reopen, right?

I don't see this setting a precedent for any future accidents - this wasn't just any accident. The ride was already troubled with other problems, and then where/when it happened, and the way it's been covered have just put it in a bad spot.

Last edited by Raven-Phile,
Tommytheduck's avatar

RE: SFKK, I don't know. Was it torn down, or did the park close? I honestly don't know. I would not have torn it down, I would have fixed the problem. Plenty of rides that have killed people, for a variety for factors, are still open. This accident was bad, I'm not arguing, but it was preventable. The chain of events that led to this happening are fixable.

I'm not thinking like a coastertool at all. I'm thinking like someone who deals with complex heavy machinery, safety, and public perception on a daily basis.

slithernoggin's avatar

The ride is fixable, but the reputation may not be.

The Edge (Intamin Freefall) at Six Flags Great America had a major accident in 1984. No one was injured. Intamin made significant improvements to the ride's safety systems, but ridership never recovered and the ride was removed after the 1986 season.

So, yes: Smiler could be repaired, the ride systems and operations improved. The park could do an aggressive marketing campaign touting those improvements. And this may be the route Merlin chooses.

But I wouldn't be surprised if the ride is removed and moved to a different Merlin park or sold to another park.

Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

Tommytheduck's avatar

People, and society, are different now. See my comment above about Smiler selfies.

Bobbie1951's avatar

If I were a gambler I'd bet that The Smiler never operates again. This coaster had been plagued with problems and this may be the straw that broke the camel's back. I would ride it, as the likelihood of anything this catastrophic happening a second time is slim, but I suspect that this ride is history. Again, kudos to Alton Towers for accepting full responsibility in lieu of blaming it on Gerstlauer the way SFOT did when that fatal accident occurred. And kudos to Leah Washington for having the grace and fortitude to handle this tragedy as well as she is. As to the time it took to rescue the victims, don't forget that it took over 4 hours to rescue the riders stuck on Joker's Jinx last year and that wasn't as intricate an operation.


slithernoggin's avatar

Seen. Seems a slim premise on which to base the fate of a $28 million coaster.

Alton has removed The Smiler branding from the park, presumably to avoid reminding guests of the accident. Why do that if the ride is going to re-open?

Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

OK, so no official word yet on what the cause of the accident was. I was wondering if I had missed it.

Thinking about the debate about re-opening the ride or not, I think it all comes down to the severity of the accident, and this was pretty severe, with a cause that has not been made known yet.

Consider other accident examples;

  • Magnum has two trains collide because of rain. The incident occurs at low speed and CF changes how the ride is operated in the rain (which is still SOP, yes?). Only minor injuries occur and the ride continues to operate.
  • SOB has multiple issues with injuries, and finally sends a trainload of riders to the hospital. Ride is permanently closed and dismantled.
  • The orignal Rattler at SFFT gains the reputation for hurting individual riders occasionally, and is reprofiled/trimmed. Ride continues to operate.
  • Superman at SFNE and DL eject riders, but both riders have unique characteristics that causes some redesign of the rides restraints. Both rides continue to operate.
  • NTG at SFoT ejects a rider and a lap belt is added to insure rider safety. Ride continues to operate.

So, we have rides that have killed people that remain open and a ride that didn't kill anyone is torn down (and I think that was a cumulative decision based on the operating history of SOB). So it is possible that the ride will remain in operation, but it will take some good PR to make it happen, IMO.

Fever I really enjoy the Simpsons. It's just a shame that I am starting to LOOK like Homer.

It was human error that caused this accident. If the train was stopped on the lifthill for 10mins like she says in the article, how can the op not realize the other train never came back? The train being E-stopped on the lifthill should've been evacuated at that time and the ride closed. IMO the ride should not be torn down because of ignorance.

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Pete's avatar

And it could be that it is clear to Alton Towers that this was human error, that is why they stated they take full responsibility instead of blaming Gerstlauer. I'm guessing the extra layer to the safety procedure that the CEO mentioned is a change in operating procedure to ensure that human error would not cause a collision in the future.

I'd rather be in my boat with a drink on the rocks, than in the drink with a boat on the rocks.

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