One of the roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure has been shut down following an incident that took place on the evening of August 25, in which 19 passengers on the ride reported injuries after the coaster completed its cycle. El Toro, a wooden roller coaster designed by prolific thrill-ride engineer Werner Stengel and manufactured by the Swiss company Intamin (whose name is a shortened form of “International Amusement Installations”), involves a track route of 4,400 feet consisting of tight turns, twists, and drops; the longest drop is 176 feet, and riders experience speeds of up to 70 miles per hour during the ride.
This incident is not the first time El Toro has been shut down for safety reasons. In June of last year, an incident took place in which the rear wheels of the A6 car came dislodged from their position on the track and the roller coasters train traveled for the majority of its ride cycle with these wheels out of position, causing damage to the rear wheel assembly, the track wood, and the steel bolts of the track. The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs called the incident a “partial derailment,” although Six Flags rejected that description, explaining that the ride’s safety systems functioned as designed and that the train as a whole remained on the track. No injuries were reported from the June 2021 incident.
Riders were not so fortunate on this more recent occasion. On Thursday, August 25 at around 7:30 PM, close to the closing time of the park, onlookers reported hearing a loud bang and seeing the train of the El Toro ride jolting during the ride’s run. The ride completed its circuit, and according to Six Flags spokesman Gabriel Daretta, all passengers disembarked from the ride “without need of assistance.” However, after getting off the ride, 14 people were treated on site by first responders, reporting “back pain and minor injuries,” according to Six Flags. Five further people were taken to nearby hospitals for further treatment; one patient reported a neck injury, two reported back injuries, and two others reported mouth and tongue injuries. According to a Six Flags spokesperson, these injured patients were “treated and released.”
Six Flags offered no immediate explanation as to the cause of the ride’s malfunction, but their spokesperson reported that El Toro will remain closed for inspection. Following any repairs and maintenance, additional inspection by Six Flags’ own engineers and maintenance professionals, as well as third party independent safety inspectors and the State of New Jersey will be required before El Toro can be opened to the public again. After the June 2021 incident, El Toro remained closed until Spring of this year. The duration of the ride’s closure will undoubtedly be contingent on the nature and extent of the problems revealed during the inspection process.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which oversees amusement park and carnival ride safety, had its inspectors on site at Great Adventure the day after the incident. After the 2021 incident with El Toro, the ride was red-tagged by the DCA, meaning that the ride was prohibited from operating until an engineering review was conducted. Once this happened, obtaining authorization to reopen the ride was a multi-stage process in cooperation with the DCA. First, a report was submitted by the ride’s manufacturer to the DCA’s Carnival-Amusement Ride Safety Unit explaining the cause of the incident and a description of the planned repairs. The repair plan was approved by the DCA’s ride engineers, and through a combination of field inspections and documentation submitted by Six Flags, it was ensured that the repairs performed on El Toro were completed according to the ride manufacturer’s recommendations. Finally, the ride was subjected to a barrage of tests and inspections. The results of these tests were deemed satisfactory, as an annual ride permit was granted for El Toro for the 2022 season.
While it is too early to speculate whether the two malfunction incidents stemmed from the same cause or were unrelated mechanical failures, it is certainly a cause for concern that a second incident happened so soon after El Toro was thoroughly inspected and deemed safe for use. While park representatives described the injuries reported as largely “minor,” the nature of the injuries – predominantly neck and back injuries resulting from jolting motion – raises further concern, as injuries of this type can frequently turn out to be more severe than the initial presentation of symptoms would indicate. Roller coaster enthusiasts trust that the thrill rides they enjoy will deliver an adrenaline rush that simulates real danger, but in reality, keeps them safe; the operators of these rides have a duty of care to maintain their equipment in safe working order. El Toro’s inspection results will be critical to all involved.
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