Man without legs dies from fall on Darien Lake's Ride of Steel roller coaster

Posted | Contributed by Mike Gallagher

Friday night, Sgt. James Hackemer got on the biggest roller coaster in western New York, Ride of Steel at Darien Lake, and during the ride, fell off to his death. The Iraq War veteran lost his legs in the war. A witness says the man came out of the ride in the first turn.

Read more and see video from WIVB/Buffalo.

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Jeff's avatar

Additional posts in the general forum:

This is a massive failure. This is the same ride where a person with legs has been tossed out. In what universe do you allow someone without legs, apparently lost above the knees, on this ride? The primary restraint works by holding your legs. That's not a negotiable design point.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

I do believe that every incident on this particular ride is attributable to the operators of the ride. Is there just no one in that region capable of understanding the rider requirements for that particular ride?

Original BlueStreak64

Tekwardo's avatar

I'm surprised that the two ROS clones don't have the new restraints that Bizarro has. And I wonder if the ops knew he was an amputee.

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Jeff said:
Additional posts in the general forum:

This is a massive failure. This is the same ride where a person with legs has been tossed out. In what universe do you allow someone without legs, apparently lost above the knees, on this ride? The primary restraint works by holding your legs. That's not a negotiable design point.

Very true, and ultimately someone on the platform has to tell this man he can't ride. Not to be disrespectful to the deceased here, but it's also true that people who are not capable of riding have to accept that fact as well. What possessed either the rider or the ops to think that he could safely ride this coaster? Were the ops afraid of there being a scene, or accused of discrimination?

Have we gone too far in not wanting to hurt someone's feelings that we can't say to anyone "no, you can't do that?"

LostKause's avatar

RGB!!! There he is!

And, like usual, I agree with you, (and, not like usual, Jeff too).

A eyewitness interviewed for the article said that he noticed that the ride hosts checked the ride just as quickly as the previous times before the disabled man rode. That doesn't look good.

That eyewitness's quote gave me chills; the part about seeing the man fall out. (shiver)

According to this story, this man fell out on the turn after the first drop. Where did earlier fatal ejection take place on the ride?

coasterqueenTRN's avatar

This hasn't been a good week for amusement parks as far as accidents. :(

My thoughts and prayers go to the young soldier's friends and family.


Last edited by coasterqueenTRN,
john peck's avatar

The first incident on Darien's ROS was at the end of the ride — a heavy-set man was launched forward and then fell down (about 10 feet) when the train stopped on the break. This was BEFORE they installed seatbelts—I'm pretty sure.

LostKause's avatar

And a mentally disabled man was ejected from the Superman coaster at SFNE, right? I am pretty sure that that was the incident that started the seat belt situation.

I'm just making sure I've got my Superman Intamin coaster ejections straight.

Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar

For those that don't know much about Darien Lake (like me), it appears that Ride of Steel had its restraints modified at some point from the standard "T-bar". It includes additional supports on either side of each rider's legs, giving it 3 supports instead of just 1 like Millennium Force, or 2 like Bizarro/El Toro.

Jeff's avatar

Yes, different ride, obviously. I believe (someone correct me if I'm wrong) that there are at least four variations of the seat and restraint:

  • v1: Darien Lake and SFA Supermen: Very flat seat, straight T-bar
  • v2: Millennium Force: Slightly deeper seats (I could be wrong), straight T-bar that touches your nuts before your lap
  • v3: Top Thrill Dragster: Much deeper seats, bent T-bar (your knees are much higher than your butt, with the bar resting lower than your knees)
  • v4: The hack job to all three Supermen, adding side-bars to the T-bar

In my non-expert opinion, I think the Dragster version is a really nice design, and feels genuinely safe and secure. I'm not confident I could get out of that restraint. MF, maybe, if I could get my feet up and out. I seem to recall at Darien Lake, in its first year, feeling like it would be pretty easy to wiggle out.

Last edited by Jeff,

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Phrazy

Sad indeed, The fact is, People won't head ride warnings and in this PC world we live in, If a employee had said something or refused him ridership, This brings up lawsuit issues

I also think it all but guarantees we will be seeing a lot more OTSRs on these rides. Perhaps it should have been that way to start.

Not knocking the guy, He fought for our country and probably was trying to live life to the fullest. Sad that it didn't last long.

I disagree about the OTSR comment, that just seems like a knee jerk response to this situation, because the majority of hyper coasters seem to be doing just fine with lapbars.

Bolliger/Mabillard for President in '08 NOT Dinn/Summers

I always wondered how much those extra restraints on the legs actually helped hold someone in on these rides. I always found them to be uncomfortable, which means that they were at least serving a purpose on the ride.

To be honest it seems like there is still alot of safety at least for a midsection of a rider. If i remember correctly when asked about at least the safety of the dragster i correctly remember Monty Jasper going over the specifics of the seatbelt and the lapbar which has twin locking mechanisms for both, so a single failure would not allow the mechanisms to release during a ride.

The leg restraints may be the part that is going to be the main area of what they probably look at here, because it seems that they were obviously put there for the reason to hold peoples legs in as well. However, the ops will come under alot of scrutiny too because of failure to make sure he met the safety standards.

This is one of those stories that does make you feel bad for people who are trying to enjoy something that allows them to have fun.

Resident Arrow Dynamics Whore

Here is the video at about 245 he explains the safety of the lapbar and seatbelt.

Im not sure about the seatbelt that they use, because i dont remember since its been three years since i have been there, but i would assume its the same as the other intamin coasters.

Resident Arrow Dynamics Whore

If it's anything like the seatbelt on the modified Superman at SFA, it's different from the other Intamin belts. That one had an orange airplane style belt that connected in the middle instead of off to the side.

This is a sad event, but someone missing both legs should never have been allowed on in the first place. When I worked at a park, one of the things beat into our heads over and over again was that guests had to have at least 3 fully in tact limbs in order to ride.

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

Virtually all lap bars are designed to perform the same basic function: they are designed to entrap the body in such a way that it won't accidentally come out of the seat. Lap bars work by controlling the shape of the body and producing a geometric entrapment. In the most basic form, that means that your torso is kept back, your legs bend at the hips, and if you rise up from your seat, you will collide with the lap bar instead of flying out of the train.

For whatever reason, over the years the lap bar has been refined to allow for adjustability, but the basic idea is the same: the combination of the seat and the lap bar put you into a bent position so that your body cannot fit through the opening between the bar and the seat back.

When Superman: Ride of Steel opened at Darien Lake, it was equipped with this very simple lap bar, but it seems to have also had a design flaw. I rode after the first passenger ejection, so the seat belts had been installed. In those trains, the odd-numbered seats are lower than the even-numbered seats, but the floor of the train seems to be level. This means that sitting in the front seat of a car, there is a shorter distance from the front of the seat to the floor than there is in the back seat of the car. Next, the seats are a little bit shallow front to back. This means that in the front seat, a person of more or less normal stature will sit with his thighs level or angled slightly upward, but in the back seat the thighs may drop over the front of the seat, allowing for a seating posture with the knees lower than the hip joint. This is critical, because so long as the angle between the torso and thigh is right or acute, the thighs will be unable to fit through the slot between the seat back and the lap bar, in almost any lap bar position. But if the torso-to-thigh angle goes obtuse, it puts the torso into an almost straight line with the thigh, and the thigh can slide upwards out from under the lap bar.

On Millennium Force, this was fixed with a redesign of the seating compartment. First, the floor was raised in the back of each car, so the distance from knee to floor is the same in any seat. Next, Intamin very cleverly added a bar which fits over the rider's toes. When you sit down on Millennium Force, your feet sit on the floor under a metal bar. Your feet are generally held back by the front of the footwell, and once the lap bar passes your knees, you are effectively locked into place: the floor is high enough that your thighs sit at an acute angle to your torso, and you cannot increase this angle by sliding your feet forward because your toes are against the front bulkhead of the footwell. Because of the bar over your toes, you cannot lift your feet out of the footwell. You cannot pull your feet back far enough to clear the toe bar because doing that requires raising your thigh, which you can't do because it hits the lap bar. So as long as the bar is over your thighs, you can't manipulate your position enough to straighten out enough to slide out from under the bar.

Notice that this all requires a rather complicated interaction between the car floor, the seat, and the rider's legs. After Richard Mordarsky came out of Superman: Ride of Steel at Six Flags Riversi--er--New England, significant changes were made to the Superman train design. As I understand it (I have not been back to Darien Lake since this was done) the seat was extended forward, which means that the front edge of the seat now serves to help hold the thigh in an elevated position. Adding an ankle bar to the base of the lap bar tends to hold the legs back and down (much like the toe bar on Millennium Force), which again because of their length tends to raise the knees, again, forcing the thighs into an acute angle against the seat back.

Of course, with so much of this angular entrapment stuff relying so heavily on the lower leg and foot to positively position the thighs, you can see how a rider lacking legs might have a hard time being positively restrained by this system. Add to that, the legs themselves carry a certain amount of the rider's total mass, meaning the the rider's center of mass is typically (when seated) just ahead of the spine and at or slightly below the waistline. Meaning that the body will tend to settle back into the seat, and can't fit past the lap bar. Without that lower body mass, not only will the thigh angle be less controlled, but the center of mass will be much higher, meaning the body is more likely to be able to tip out of the seat.

Now, I don't know the extent of Sgt. Hackemer's war wounds, so from where I sit it is really difficult to judge the extent to which his missing limbs would have caused the restraint system to fail. Clearly it is possible for legless bodies to ride in these trains without incident, as the ballast dummies commonly used on these rides are legless (but admittedly have a rigid seat angle). But because the full effectiveness of the lap bar restraint system involves the entire lower body, I suspect it is very likely that Hackemer's body geometry was a contributing factor in this incident.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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CoasterDemon's avatar

Very sad event. This guy had a quite a life/tough life, and a sad way to end. But his mother said this is what he wanted to do; not let anything stop him living life.

Intamin rides have been more and more about extreme transitions and over-extreme "up lift forces." Those "up lift forces" translate to extreme air time when someone becomes un restrained. Those forces aren't even fun, cemented to a seat or not. Between the Intamin accidents and cables, seems a little scary...

edit - I think B&M has some sort of harness for disabled riders. Griffon had some brackets on the back of 2 seats, and the ride op explained to me that is a special place to attach a harness for people with less limbs. Intamin doesn't have one of these?

Last edited by CoasterDemon,
LostKause's avatar

...Just because I can't sleep...

CoasterDemon said:

...Between the Intamin accidents and cables, seems a little scary...

Adding this accident to all of the others, I am starting to feel a little more afraid of Intamin coasters too.

It seems like each year we hear about something that has gone terribly wrong with an Intamin coaster (and the drop tower incident too). I can't get them out of my mind sometimes.

That poor girl who had her legs severed off from a loose cable at Kentucky Kingdom could smell burning flesh as she got to the bottom of the drop tower. Park guests and employees watched her detached legs fall hundreds of feet to the ground.

What about the adolescent boy and his father, realizing that their lives were in danger as they witnessed the cable snapping during the launch on the coaster at Knott's Berry Farm? The cable sliced through the nose of the train directly in front of them and something cut that poor boys leg (perhaps the cable?). At the same time, the train suddenly became stuck after the backwards decent, jarring the boys seat out of place. The father was frantically screaming for help for his poor son, trying to no avail to get his seat belt unfasten.

Then there are the ejections. A mentally disabled man was flung from the Superman coaster at Six Flags New England. Eyewitnesses claimed that his lap bar was not lowered by ride operators (true or not true?). One rider, riding behind the man, saw that he was falling out during the ride, and reached out to try to hold him in, unsuccessfully.

This is the second ejection on this particular Superman coaster at Darien Lake*. The eyewitness in this particular story said that he saw the disabled, legless man, who was sitting in front of him, fly out of his seat during the first turn, while the ride was traveling about 75 miles per hour. While riding a exciting roller coaster, escaping form everyday life, having fun, he witnessed horror.

...How disturbing. When I think about all of the people involved, the family and friends who have to attend someones premature funeral, the people who witness these horrific accidents, the ride operators and park personnel who may feel some kind of guilt for being responsible (whether they are or not), The victims, like the young girl who now has to live without legs, who has to have her father carry her around, I feel sick. Intamin not only affects the lives of the people I have mentioned above, but they affect my life, and the many other people who feel empathy for those they have harmed.

*(or possibly third. Wasn't someone ejected from the ride, but survived?)

Last edited by LostKause,

It's always very sad to hear stuff like this, especially when it could have been avoided. This should not have happened.
Still I wouldn't think it that far off to say you're more likely to get struck by lightning twice in the same day then to get hurt or killed on an Intamin or any coaster LostKause. My drive home from work is far more perilous but I'm willing to take the risk.

Last edited by spiritman,

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