Boy Dies on Verrückt at Schlitterbahn Kansas City

Friday, August 12, 2016 11:39 PM

But maybe not in the long run. Those nets are unsightly, need to be installed, probably require they're own maintenance, and maybe aren't the safety feature they're cracked up to be.

But no matter. I see places on both styles where one might crack their head...

Sunday, August 14, 2016 5:24 PM

I don't get how anyone would think putting up thin metal hoops over the riders heads as they go by at up to 65mph is a good idea. Those should be removed from all of Schlitterbahn's slides as those things can cut like a knife. Really stupid engineering.

Monday, August 15, 2016 12:40 PM

Just make the sides of the slides tall enough to contain the boats under any possible circumstances within the operational envelope.

Monday, August 15, 2016 7:28 PM

I wouldn't be surprised if all nets were removed from the water coasters that have them in the near future.

A much better design would be similar to what that (AWESOME) airtime slide in Utah has... high side walls. If the walls on the airtime hill were ridiculous, say 5 feet high, even if you caught a little air your boat would just come back down and continue on. The nets, in hindsight, are a death trap waiting to happen.

Hell I just rode Black Anaconda at Noah's Ark (same nets) and the guy in the back of our raft caught some air.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 11:32 AM

The riders of the raft appear to have been properly within the weight range of the ride:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 11:39 AM

In a way that's a small silver lining to this horrible incident. For the past week the lifeguards working the ride must've been second guessing themselves, wondering if they somehow screwed up and contributed to the accident.

On the flip side, this is another damning revelation for the ride designers as it's looking more and more likely that someone was killed on their ride which was operating under the parameters for which it was designed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 1:12 PM

this is perhaps the most intelligent discussion I have seen on this topic, so I have chosen to post here instead of anywhere else. it appears that some of you know a fair amount of this ride’s history but to flesh it out a bit more here is some background on the ride technology in particular.

disclaimer: i am not casting stones nor am i assigning blame. schlitterbahn and its affiliates are owned, operated and run by decent people. I can promise you that nobody feels worse about what has happened than they do. not just because they are being thrown into the fire, but because the last thing they ever want to do is harm anybody. my heart goes out to everybody who has been affected by this horrible event.

the master blaster concept was conceived by jeff henry around 1992 based on tom lochtefeld’s patented sheet flow technology used for the flow rider. the resulting nozzle technology that propelled people uphill was truly revolutionary. although henry and schooley were involved in the initial development phase (1992-1994), the master blaster was primarily developed without their assistance over a 12-year period by nbgs/water ride concepts (schlitterbahn's design group) along with various vendors and technical specialists. during this 12-year period the ride technology evolved tremendously and by 2006 roughly 70 rides were built around the world either directly by nbgs or through their nbgs uk affiliate. neither henry nor schooley directly participated in the primary evolution of blaster technology nor were they directly involved in the design of any of these 70 rides. this task was left to nbgs staff who consisted of engineers, designers, programmers and cad technicians. in 2006 after the dissolution of nbgs there was a massive brain-drain and dispersal of experienced blaster personnel followed by the sale of the highly sought after licensing rights which were acquired by white water west industries. the ride’s evolution beyond this point is outside my scope of understanding. either white water west or members of the now defunct nbgs uk affiliate may have been the company(s) that refused to participate in the verruckt project.

originally billed as a tower replacement or people-mover, the first designs were not water-coasters in nature. they consisted of very modest hill profiles and focused primarily on keeping the tower heights relatively short. without any initial drop velocity, these early designs required huge pumps in order to achieve the velocities required to propel boats uphill. these rides were incredibly slow, notoriously unreliable at clearing the hills, horribly inefficient and expensive to operate. rides remained this way with only modest advancements until 1996 when the master blaster at blastenhoff was built. the lessons learned from the nine previous rides led designers to the conclusion that the most exciting part of any slide was still the downhill drop. since it turned out that riders really didn’t mind climbing towers the idea of using the nozzles to merely maintain initial drop velocities was adopted and towers began to get taller. This meant that blasters could have multiple drops with higher velocities, more reliable hill performance, smaller pumps and less expensive operating costs all while extending rides to lengths never seen before (1200’+).

the master blaster at blastenhoff represented the first water-coaster style ride and was at the time a huge leap forward. future designs built incrementally upon the ride at blastenhoff with each subsequent layout only advancing slightly beyond the previous iteration. additional tooling was developed to support this new design philosophy as existing tooling geometry was insufficient. uphill profiles were designed such that riders would not be able to clear the hill without assistance from the nozzles thereby keeping hill crest velocities under control and within a more predictable range. the hill crest radius built into the tooling was matched as close as possible to the water/boat’s natural trajectory to ensure that boats would not take flight. this improved control of hill profile and velocities while using the appropriate cresting geometry kept rides predictable, reliable and safe. to the best of my knowledge up until the verruckt the tallest blaster was 78’ in height with the steepest drop being at a 42-degree angle and tallest drop in the 35’-40’ range. it is somewhat safe to say that the verruckt would have required an even newer set of tooling to handle the increased heights and velocities involved. most notably the convex parts at the top of the hill would have needed to be larger than what was used for these previous rides. merely adjusting the heights and angles would have likely been insufficient. whether or not new tooling was developed is not clear.

specific points to note:

1) the safety netting was always a core design feature and was not intended to keep riders in the ride specifically. it was initially believed that the relatively low side walls (partly to aid in line of sight) would have left riders feeling vulnerable so it was added primarily to provide a sense of security and to satisfy the insurance underwriter's desire for slip-fall containment (the netting proved useful as something to hold onto while traversing the slide surface after the boat failed to clear a hill and the riders had to evacuate via an exit tower located in each of the valleys). although it seems clear, whether or not the netting was appropriate for a ride such as the verruckt is an open question.

2) none of the boats on these 70 blasters had any sort of seats/restraints whatsoever (they were merely a 3-person raft and in the earliest rides single and double tubes were used). although there was a weight requirement it was not measured directly by a scale, but only by the “honor system” being visually verified by the operator. the ride profiles were timid enough by comparison that neither restraints nor direct weight measurement was a requirement.

3) in the early days the initial loading arrangement was to evenly distribute the weight front to back as best they could. in terms of vehicle performance, a balanced vehicle is generally a more stable vehicle. this didn’t work very well since a large percentage of the water coming from the nozzle would pass underneath the boat and the energy would fail to transfer. to decrease water blow-by, heavier riders were placed in the rear of the boat to keep it more firmly planted. a “flap” or “pocket” was added to the front/underside of the boat in order to catch thrust just as the front of the boat passed over the nozzle instead of having to wait for the entire boat to clear thrusting only at the rear. the “pocket” also helped harness the remaining water that still managed to blow by. whether or not rear-heavy loading was necessary even after the boat re-designs is an open question. based on reports, it appears that for the verruckt the weight distribution was still tilted toward the rear making the front of the boat lighter and susceptible to uplift when subjected to a sufficient lifting force.

4) the 70 blasters built by nbgs had pumps that ran continuously. they never shut off or varied in output during normal operation. apparently the verruckt used pumps with variable frequency drive to save energy. this allowed the pumps to ramp up and down and vary in output during normal operation. how varying pump output may have contributed is an open question.

5) the only part of the previous 70 rides subject to engineering scrutiny requiring a professional seal was the support structure itself. a solid track record together with a growing body of empirical data (gathered after each new ride installation) meant the ride designers themselves were deemed to be the experts for everything ride path related and as such ride paths did not receive an engineer’s critique or review. many waterslide companies utilize software to analyze ride paths and although not perfect when used together with empirical data is a really powerful tool for providing safe designs. whether or not ride path analysis was performed is an open question.

6) the only real issues for blasters in this 12-year period (primarily in the early years) were the pullout radii being too tight for some of the taller drops and potential collisions when boats failed to clear a hill and it went backwards down the slide contacting the trailing boat. larger concave tooling fixed the pullout radius issue and advanced computer control systems that tracked every boat on the ride eliminated collisions. if a boat failed to report (via photo sensor) the control system would shut down the slide in such a way that each boat would be isolated in its own valley thereby preventing collision.

I was not involved in the verruckt project and I don't have any further insights as to how this project progressed through the different phases. nor do I know what was or was not reviewed and what simulations/calculations were actually run for any of the systems or components involved.

just like all of you I have my thoughts on what happened, but without intimate project knowledge and not being there to witness it firsthand I can’t say for sure. this is purely speculation, but i suspect a confluence of things contributed rather than any single cause. potentially a combination of too much nozzle thrust and too tight of a radius at the top of the hill for the given boat velocity (slide dropped away too quickly), a boat too heavily weighted toward the rear (susceptible to front end lift and rear end drop) and the unfortunate encounter with a sufficient head wind (causing the boat to sail). ironically enough (assuming that he didn't fly out completely on his own, rather the restraint coming loose on impact with the netting) the hook and loop strap may have actually saved the two women in the back from even further injury. the weak restraint allowing him to be pulled out of the boat so it could continue on instead of the boat potentially hanging and flipping over backwards if he were firmly strapped in.

imho, it appears that an over-reliance on methods that worked on blasters in the past combined with no real historical understanding of why and how those methods were derived and then evolved (which would have been the starting point for making further modifications to suit this particular version of the blaster) led to this horrible tragedy.

Last edited by neokahn, Thursday, August 18, 2016 12:07 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 2:06 PM

thank you for that information and history. interesting.

p.s. it's a small world after all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 3:31 PM

I'm still trying to figure out why the tallest water slide in the world needed a bunny hop and water pressure. Had Verruckt been a body slide (less weight less speed) with no hill/hop and a long runway trough for deceleration, this disaster could have been avoided.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 3:31 PM

We all have shifting priorities.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 5:13 PM

August Mueller said:
Had Verruckt been a body slide (less weight less speed) with no hill/hop and a long runway trough for deceleration, this disaster could have been avoided.

Can you imagine? There would have to be a medic stationed at the exit to assist with extraction of suits from the land down under.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 6:08 PM

Thanks, neokahn, for a very detailed and insightful post. Understanding the background of the blaster rides is very interesting. I would love to see how this engineering developed through the years. Do any of the first 70 rides employ any sort of braking strips or similar devices that mechanically or magnetically slow the rafts? A couple of us were wondering what the black strips that you see on the down-hill parts of these slides.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 8:30 PM

My pleasure on providing the detail. I did so because many of the design elements on the verruckt appear odd or nonsensical and in many ways they are certainly incompatible with this particular ride design, but when you see the history you can at least begin to understand where these things came from. I figured it would help provide clarity to an otherwise cloudy situation. Many of the elements that will most likely prove to have been fatal on the verruckt worked wonderfully on previous designs and is why they were brought forward when maybe they should not have been.

We never had to use any braking devices on any of the original rides. At least not on the main portion of the ride. We always found ourselves in a situation where we were fighting to maintain as much momentum as we possibly could in order to clear the hills, so there was never any excess energy to dissipate. However, I do recall one instance where we were forced into a very short runout with a fairly large drop leading into it and we had to place the material in the drop section to slow boats down. The material we used was a rubberized conveyor material that was glued down with general adhesive. This worked pretty well for what we needed at the time and could also be what they used.

Last edited by neokahn, Tuesday, August 16, 2016 8:34 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 10:53 PM

^I think we shall call you "Dave Jr.".

Thanks for the insight and thought provoking post. I also had a lengthy discussion with a co-worker about this the other day and came to the same conclusion regarding the "combination of errors". Similarly to plane crashes and other catastrophes, if one or two of the criteria had changed, the accident would not have least for now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 4:31 AM

Thank you for all the background and information neokahn!

On the subject of Jeff Henry, what do you think of this long feature about him?

It touches the subject of the history of water parks around the world and even has a picture of a prototype Master Blaster. The last part touches the subject of Verruckt.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 11:48 AM

Thanks for the link. I had read parts of that article before, but never the whole piece. The way I understand and remember things differs a bit from the article. Like the 200 blasters around the world. Unless they are including the offshoot variants then that number is completely overblown. To be fair, I only experienced a narrow sliver of time from my own unique perspective (roughly a 14 year span), so some of the article's content outside of that window I have to take as is.

Within the industry it is quite understood that George Millay is without a doubt the father of water parks. Nobody can argue with that. Jeff fits this mold as well and has made many significant contributions. He is certainly more of a free spirit than was Millay and has a great knack for seeing beyond the boundaries, but as with all eccentrics he can be difficult to digest especially for those who have to work closely with him. He is a very complex individual and most people either love him or hate him with rarely a middle ground. He has often been attributed with successes and accomplishments that were made by those who worked either with or for him. I can name well over a dozen individuals that played an indispensable role in Jeff's success, but who have remained relatively unknown. Jeff gets bored easily and after the initial excitement of a new idea goes away he begins to seek out another. He rarely saw his ideas through to perfection. That was left to others and it was very difficult to make any new technology he devised a profitable enterprise because of this. The blaster stands alone in this regard.

It is only after a significant time away from this environment that I have gained a healthier perspective and can begin to realize and appreciate Jeff for what he truly is. A gifted, free-spirited, spontaneous, in some ways undisciplined, don't bother me with the details, trial and error visionary, who is fiercely loyal to those in his circle, will give you the shirt off his back while at times being brutal in his treatment of the same. It is a very unique person that gets along with Jeff and at the time I can say that I wasn't one of them, but somehow managed to find a way to coexist. At the end of the day I believe he is a good person with the best of intentions who creates waterparks and waterpark rides to make people smile. So I know what happened with the verruckt has been extremely hard on him and the family.

The blaster prototypes were actually really fun to ride back then. They were pretty much plywood and stainless steel cheese graters that ruined many a wetsuit. You couldn’t get me on one of them today. The prototype shown in the piece was for the ride that was taken to the IAAPA trade show in the fall of 1993. It filled a 30’ x 90’ booth and was completely self-contained. Although it did leak onto the floor of the exhibition hall. The original tooling to replace the wooden components was built by WW. A disagreement with WW led to NBGS relocating to a larger facility where they began fabrication of the parts themselves. This is how NBGS got into the fiberglass slide business. Here is the original cad drawing of the prototype.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016 3:29 PM

What I find interesting is that in the piece, Jeff Henry trashes both Rick Hunter (co founder of Proslide) and Geoff Chuttler (founder of WhiteWater) and even dares them to build a taller Verruckt.... yet he sold the rights to the Master Blaster to WhiteWater. Then, for MASSIV at his Galveston park, Schlitterbahn went to WhiteWater to get it designed and built.

Rick Hunter and his team came up from with a different way to move boats up hills last year. After experimenting with conveyor belts (Typhoon at Six Flags New England) and LIM's (Wildebeast and Mammoth at Holiday World), they went to water jets for Singha at Siam Park (Tenerife, Canary Islands). Unlike the Master Blaster, the water jets are mounted to the side of the slide section and go into pockets on the side of the raft. There is also no need for nets thanks to the tall wall sides.

I took this picture of one of the RocketBLAST section on Tsunami, the first such slide in North America.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 5:39 PM

I would imagine that would be very, very uncomfortable to be in the middle of without a raft. I mean, the master blaster looks like it would be pretty bad, too... but something about that just screams "ouch"

Thursday, August 18, 2016 12:17 PM

I haven't really kept up with water coaster advancements, but it is an interesting design Proslide came up with. Just like the conveyor design that allowed them to side step the sheet flow patents that were in effect at the time these side jets probably create a situation where they still don't have to pay a royalty since it technically isn't sheet flow. Although it looks a lot like Sky Turtle's concepts it is very clever. I suspect they are still using center flume de-watering to evacuate spent water which leads back to Langford's (Surfcoaster - Gravity Groove) patents, but either way got to hand to Hunter for a nice arrangement.

I am sure the key to this design is the same as other water thrust methods where you simply can't let the boat slow down. The loss of momentum causes a lot of issues for rides of this type.

Last edited by neokahn, Thursday, August 18, 2016 9:13 PM
Friday, May 5, 2017 10:02 PM

The family of Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old boy killed on the world's tallest slide at a Kansas water park last year, will receive nearly $20 million in settlements from the companies involved, according to court documents.


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