I’m going to take a break from my usual light-hearted blog to discuss an awful and truly horrific incident. An 11 year old girl named Evha Jannath tragically died on a water ride at Drayton Manor theme park in Staffordshire, England on Tuesday, 9th May. I’ve been following this news story all week, and I still have a few questions. How did this happen? Could it have been prevented? What is the impact of this on both the people involved and the theme park industry across the globe? I’m going to try to answer those questions below.
The Splash Canyon Water Ride at Drayton Manor Theme Park
Before I begin, I’d like to take a moment of thought here. Regardless of the circumstances, an 11 year old girl has died. That is hard to digest. The age and vulnerability of the girl involved just seems to add several tons of weight to the already tragic circumstance. My sincere condolences and thoughts go out to the girl’s family and to the girl’s friends who had the very unfortunate experience of being on the raft ride with her when the incident happened. I sincerely hope that appropriate help is being provided for them and that they find a way to move forward from Tuesday’s incident.
And what happened exactly? It is believed the girl stood up to swap seats with another rider so that they could get in on the ride photo. The raft then hit an obstacle and jolted the girl out of the boat into the 5ft deep, raging currents below. Bearing in mind that those waters are designed to carry enormously heavy, 6-person boats along at a reasonable pace, it’s safe to say she didn’t stand a chance. Staff dragged her out of the ride area and she was picked up by an air ambulance and rushed away for medical help, but it was later announced that she hadn’t made it. At time of writing it is unclear as to the cause of death but it is believed to be from a serious head injury rather than drowning.
The Daily Fail, who actually reads this garbage?
I have an issue with the media. Yeah, I’m writing a blog about it, but wait ’till you hear how the parasites… Sorry, “journalists” responded. Right from the get-go the press jumped on this news story, and they were out for blood and, of course, sales. The finger had to be pointed somewhere, right? And everybody loves a scapegoat. I recall flicking on Sky News and reading a headline that said, “Tragedy At Staffordshire Theme Park”. It’s clear as day what they were trying to do here, with all of the press regarding the Smiler incident in 2013, which took place at Alton Towers, also in Staffordshire. It added to the sensationalism and was easy money for them. Fortunately, the headline was later changed to clarify that the incident was at Drayton Manor, a theme park owned and operated by a completely different company to that of Merlin’s Alton Towers.
The front page of the Daily Fail the next morning wasted no time jumping to a comparison with the Smiler incident in 2013 and how Alton Towers is only 40 miles away from Drayton Manor. In the real world, the only link that can be made is that both rides are in the U.K. That’s it. The Mirror insisted on taking it one step further however, and somehow bring the girl’s religion into the fray. The fact she attended an Islamic school is completely irrelevant, yet remained a key point in the early news story they produced. It seems there is still no respect when it comes to selling papers.
Alton Towers closed their River Rapids ride as a precaution
What does this mean for theme park rides going forward? This isn’t the first time somebody has died on a water raft ride like this. I’d like to remind you of the Dreamworld River Rapids incident last year in Australia, where 4 people lost their lives after one of the rafts flipped over. While the circumstances were totally different, the ride concepts were similar enough. Drayton Manor theme park only just reopened today, which prompted me to open up my laptop and write this blog post. But the ride itself remains closed as a suitable mark of respect. Similar rides in Merlin’s Thorpe Park, Alton Towers and Legoland Windsor were closed as a precaution but have now reopened.
So how can this be prevented from happening again? I’ve been reading forums such as Towers Street and keeping an eye on social media, and while theories regarding installation of safety nets and complicated ride monitoring systems are flying around, the official line at the moment is a little different. Jonathan Hughes, vice-chair of the Staffordshire Branch of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health went on record to say that the HSE would be looking into the responsibility of the park’s staff, Drayton Manor theme park itself, the contractors and the manufacturers of the ride. He went on to say they would be investigating the history of the ride including it’s maintenance records, inspections, tests and details of any works carried out.
Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges at Universal Orlando features safety netting in between ride seats
While I’m sure an announcement will be made in due course, at the moment nothing seems to have changed. One of my first thoughts when I heard about the incident was Seaworld Orlando’s upcoming “Infinity Falls” raft ride, which claims to lift you up vertically before “tipping” you down into the rapids. I later read that this ride will employ a seat belt or harness-like mechanism. One has to wonder if that’s what we’ll be seeing soon on these river rapid rides in the U.K?
For now I’d like to end with an important message… Don’t let this isolated incident put you off. Whilst tragic, an event like this is incredibly rare. Consider all the thousands of theme park fans who visit these parks every day. The odds are along the same lines as being struck by lightning. In fact, you’re far more likely to be injured in a car accident on the way to the park than on the rides themselves. Theme Parks remain a safe place to go and enjoy a day out, and I urge you to ignore the scaremongering bloodhounds that write for our national tabloids. However, I don’t know about you, but next time I’m queuing for a water ride, I’ll be thinking about little Evha and her family. Gone, but never forgotten.