Nothing Quite Like Being Stuck 150 Feet In The Air For 2 Hours To Put You Off Roller Coasters

If anything could turn a die-hard roller coaster rider off the idea of any more trips looping crazily and careening joyfully through the air, it would likely be sitting in a non-moving train car 150 feet up in the air for almost two hours. That’s what happened to a dozen riders the new Superman ride at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif. yesterday afternoon. It could be worse, right? At least it wasn’t upside down.

The Vallejo-Times Herald says the riders were eventually saved by firefighters from the stalled car about two hours after it slowed to a halt at the crest of the ride, just before a twist in the first tower. A theme park crane pulled up with a big bucket carrying firefighters and a park mechanic in charge. The passengers had apparently even tried to shake the ride loose to encourage it to go on its way, which didn’t work.

The mechanic was able to restart the ride and it went backward, delivering the passengers safely to the ground. No one was hurt, but it’s unclear just what caused the ride to take a nap. A spokeswoman for the park said the ride will reopen after a “thorough safety inspection.”

“If (a ride) stops, it usually detects something and it stops for safety reasons,” she said, adding that she didn’t know if the park will offer compensation to the stranded riders.

The ride just opened on June 30, and boasts speeds up to 62 mph. Now however, it could see less riders than the park had hoped.

Riders rescued from Six Flags’ Superman roller coaster in Vallejo [Vallejo Times-Herald]





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  1. madrigal says:

    Two hours? That is terrifying, especially at that height. At least they were upright?

    I got stuck on the Forbidden Journey ride at Harry Potter. We were tilted on our backs. The guy next to me kept trying to kick his way out. The ride finally started up again, and we got stuck a 2nd time leaning forward. Did not ride that one a second time.

    • Captain Spock says:

      PHEW! im glad my lady does not like coasters (she loves harry potter though) so we skipped that an just took the walk through the castle.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      Happened to me and the Ex at El Toro in Great Adventure. About 15′ from the top of the initial climb the ride stopped. They sent some foreign exchange worker up the steps to explain that some idiot pushed on the gates in the loading area, and that froze the ride. Being a non-coaster person, I became more and more freightened as we were stuck there, and began chanting “want to get off, get me off this thing, turn around, etc….”. The worst part was that when the ride re-engaged, we dropped about a foot back, which no one warned us about, and I almost soiled myself. If anyone tried shaking the ride or trying something stupid, I would have freaked out more. The

    • andsowouldi says:

      Ha, I rode Harry Potter three times in a row because it broke down both of the first two times and they kept letting us get another ride without waiting in line. I’ve always been thrilled when roller coasters got stuck for this same reason. Getting stuck usually means I’ll get at least a “skip the line” pass of some sort.

      I don’t think I’ve ever been stuck anywhere nearly as long as two hours, but I’ve gotten stuck in odd places and had to walk down long stairwells from the top of rides before. Never found it particularly scary.

  2. thatfunkylady says:

    The roller coasters here have issues. Kong and Medusa break down on a regular basis, they have been since they opened well over a decade ago. I got stuck on the Tony Hawk ride for (thankfully only) 15 minutes a few months after it opened. It’s very much ride at your own risk here.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Why do roller coaster makers (let alone safety laws) require rides (or specifically riders) to be easily reset and rescued when a breakdown occurs? This kind of issue should inconvenience the people on the rides for, as a maximum, 30 minutes. It cannot possible be so hard as to either install reverse movement on the tracks, or just get your ass out there and pull the riders out safely. If you can’t safely and quickly reach every point of the ride in an emergency, it’s just not safe.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      *Why don’t

    • menty666 says:

      Pardon of the problem is *what* tripped the fault. Was it a bad wheel? A break in the track circuit? A sudden failure of one of the safety harnesses? An uncoupling of cars?

      It’s not always simple to just harness the back of the train and lower it to the next low level without accidentally hurting someone. Similarly, you have to be careful about how you’re going to get 20 people safely down from a 200 ft loop. Say you disengage the restraints and the car slips, the remaining people on the cars could die.

      Having said that, yes, they should be able to get them off safely. Chain the train in both directions to stabilize it and undo the restraints one seat pair at a time. But that level of complexity leads to more expensive cars and more that can break.

      I’m lucky that the longest I was ever stuck on a ride was about 20 minutes, 10 feet from the station. Some 6’something passenger was too tall for the ride and refused to exit the area. Not cool.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I agree that safety could be compromised by moving the car, so I’ll steer away from that avenue and stick with rider recovery.

        I propose that every ride should be able to do/have these three things:

        1) Be able to disengage all power and propelling devices on the ride in an emergency (essentially lock all cars in place). This may already exist universally.

        2) All rides have manual devices that can be placed on either side of all cars on the track that “lock” them in place, preventing them from moving. I imagine sort of a reverse jaws of life, where is locks on to the tracks and keep the cars from moving on the track.

        3) All businesses have a reasonable escape plan for passengers in those situations, including if stops occur while upside down or sideways. I would imagine some kind of mobile platform would work normally, and some kind of “suicide jumper” net for when they are not upright.

        • menty666 says:

          “Pardon of the problem” Ugh, I need to stop multitasking.

        • qwickone says:

          That’s regulation and we all know regulations kill jobs. Why do you hate America??

        • Zernhelt says:

          I’m not sure you could design a locking mechanism that would function properly without destroying the rails of the ride. I cna thing of two possible locking systems:

          1) Some system where you insert a pin into a hole to lock the car in place. This would require either that the pin is a permanent component of the car that much be aligned with a hole on the tracks, or that you have to line up a hole in the car with a hole on the tracks and insert the pin through both. In both cases, you can’t lock the car in place at any location, the car may have to be moved to line up the hole(s) and pin. Moving the car may be very difficult depending on the weight of the car. Also, refitting all cars and tracks in existing roller coasters would probably be very expensive.

          2) You have some sort of break on the car that grabs the rails to hold the car in place. However any break with enough certainty that it grabs the rail well enough that the car won’t move is probably one time use. Either it deforms the rail in grabbing it (think of a vice), or a component of the car deforms (think of the breaks on table saws, but not exactly, because those allow the blade to rotate backwards). The problem with this is that for the break to work reasonably well, you’ve probably just damaged an expensive component of the car or rail, so operators would be unlikely to use the break and pay the repair cost. Also, any break can’t damage the car or tracks so much that they cannot be moved (so that thrown out this option all together).

          In the end, exiting the car anywhere but loading/offloading point is unsafe. Someone could fall off the catwalk or miss the net. It may be unpleasant to sit in the car for a couple hours, but it’s probably safer.

          • iesika says:

            I can think of a simpler mechanism, though it would be impossible for retrofit. Just have places built into the track (which are usually steel with a sort of trestle structure, like the one in the picture above,) where a lock-bar could be placed before and after the car. You could build it into the trestle structure and have a place every foot or every six inches. If you’re manually offloading people from the vehicle, your first move would be to shove the bars into place and stabilize the car so it can’t move more than a few inches in either direction.

        • iesika says:

          I was thinking of #3 the moment I saw this article. I can’t believe, in this age of lawsuits and safety regulation, you can build a giant roller coaster without an evacuation plan.

          I’ve only even seen a roller coaster break down once – it was at a small, kind of crappy fun-park in my home town. The fire department came out with a cherry picker and had everyone down safely before the birthday party I was at ended. Granted, that was a small coaster – but if you’re going to build something that takes you a few hundred feet up in the air on a rapidly moving mini train, you should be able to engineer a cherry picker or mobile platform that could reach it.

        • GodfreyOriole says:

          Most rollercoasters only require a mechanic to push the coaster car foward or backward . Coasters work by gravity and usually will stop at a block point if the ride estops . The more complex rides have a little car type thing that can come out and guide the train or push the train so it can go to the next block.

          In an estop one or two block points are usually flat sections with stairs going to the ground. If the rcoaster is estopped you can only start the ride up two ways by fixing the error that caused the stop and by resetting the ride . the resetting the ride can take an hour or more sometimes.

          It usually takes 2 hours for the maintanance crew to make sure the ride wont start up again.

          Also When a ride estops its in a block section that already has magnetic brakes already. Thats what a block section is for

        • DaveInBillsburg says:

          Once the ride passes the initial climb, most of them rely on gravity to propel them around the track.

    • BigDragon says:

      I’d be more curious about why these problems always happen at Six Flags and not elsewhere. Somebody is skimping on maintenance. Every time I read about a coaster getting stuck for a long period of time it’s at Six Flags.

      I’ve gotten stuck on Wildcat and SuperDooperLooper at Hershey Park, Volcano at Kings Dominion, and Talon at Dorney Park. Each stop was for about 15 minutes with the exception of SDL. Even then it was only 30 minutes because they had to walk the track to check for more obstructions (fallen leaves or twigs). At most parks it’s no big deal. At Six Flags it always seems to be a multi-hour debacle where the park is ill-equipped or trained to fix the problem in a timely manner.

  4. Oh_No84 says:

    Definitely all their money back.
    Why did this take two hours???
    It would take a few seconds for a tech to see which sensors were tripped and then it should not take long to figure out why or if the tripped sensor means some kind of safety hazard.
    I doubt the sensor was life threatening/causing the car to fall off, so they should have reversed the ride right away to get the people off.

  5. aja175 says:

    Going there Friday, looking forward to this ride either way!

  6. ahecht says:

    Being stuck 200 feet in the air, upright, with a great view isn’t all that bad. At least they weren’t stuck on It’s a Small World, forced to listen to that darn song over and over again. Worst 45 minutes of my life…

    • menty666 says:

      I’m not sure what’s worse…that or being baked in the hot sun for 2 hours unable to move.

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        This. 200 feet up is not the problem. It’s the roast rack of rider that is the problem.

        Upside down would have been significantly worse, even with the shade. They were about to go into an inversion when it stopped.

    • AzCatz07 says:

      For someone like me who has a serious fear of heights (but not of rollercoasters, oddly) I don’t know if I’d survive 2 hours at that height. It would certainly be my last rollercoaster, at least for a while!

      • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

        My wife has a terrible fear of heights – but loves 300+ foot coasters. So you’re not alone with that combination.

        When I was in college, one of my jobs (at end of a shift) was changing burned out bulbs that were probably 20-25 feet in the air. Scramble up the ladder, change the bulb. Scramble down, reposition ladder, repeat the process. I was always in a hurry so I could get to class.

        The manager’s hair was much more gray at the end of the semester than it had been at the beginning.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      It is for me. I’m scared of heights. Of course, I wouldn’t be up there anyway.

    • BigDragon says:

      A family friend got stuck on that ride for an hour. The mere mention of that ride or the park to him makes him go absolutely insane. It’s not funny — it’s scarey!

  7. Jevia says:

    I bet going backwards like that after 2 hours was pretty “thrilling” (and by “thrilling” I mean scared s—less)

    • ahecht says:

      This ride is actually designed to go both forwards and backwards during normal operation.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      When I got tapped on El Toro in NJ, they didn’t warn us that the ride would slip back a few feet before catching the chain that pulls you up. FREAKED ME OUT.

  8. jeffpiatt says:
    it’s how the safety system works most rides have “blocks” where an ride car can safely stop and be unloaded if an fault occurs.this ride seems to have brakes on the car it self.

    • UFAlien says:

      Look at the park’s promotional video and you can see that there’s actually a magnetic brake on the track where this car stopped.

      • BigDragon says:

        I have to wonder why there isn’t a metal walkway and stairway for easy access to that area. Normally there’s a platform there. Hopefully they put one in after this.

  9. do-it-myself says:

    At least no one’s feet were chopped off during this Superman ride.

  10. Golfer Bob says:

    Something similar happened many years ago to our family at the Gettysburg Battlefield in the observational tower. My mother didn’t want to go up saying the elevator looked rickety. My father convinced her and there was a boy scout there who explained to her very matter of factly how safe the elevator was all the safety features that were included on modern elevators (I assume he had his Otis Merit Badge).

    Well, sure enough, the elevator did get stuck at the top and the boy scout tried to take control of the situation and keep everyone calm. Now my mother is not known for holding her tongue, but she did – at least until the doors sprang open making the situation even more terrifying.

    She asked him “what are you going to do now Mr. Boy Scout?” and kept berating him like that until he started to cry. The fire dept. had to come to rescue us and the poor boy scout was sobbing in the corner until they carried him out. Yep. Mom. Gotta love her.

  11. Actionable Mango says:

    This happened to my cousin and I at the Vancouver World’s Fair. It was night, near the top of the initial peak, and lasted a little over an hour.

    It wasn’t so bad, but the worst part was not knowing what was going on. Communication would have gone a long way. For all we knew, the entire time we were moments away from the whole thing falling apart and our deaths. Or maybe a fuse blew. The not knowing anything sucked.

  12. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Gah, I hate those things. I only like one roller coaster: the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz, CA Beach Boardwalk. It’s a big old wooden roller coaster, with a huge wide track. Those skinny tracks scare the hell out of me. I mostly like rides that stay on the ground, thanks.

  13. TyLeR_v2 says:

    This ride uses a magnetic launch system to send the train around the circuit. Once launched there are no mechanics that power the ride. Gravity take it through the elements and back to the load/unload station. The train could have stopped due to numerous reasons. Since it stopped in a location that is should never stop, I’m assuming that it did not launch properly and probably should have returned to the station, but with just a bit of bad luck it stopped. The same error may not have the same result as weight, wind or anything else could have played a key role is stopping the train where it stopped. In 8 years Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Ohio has stopped and balanced itself just at the top of the 420 foot tower.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      I have heard Kingda Ka in NJ does this as well. I assume they have emergency pants/underwear at the base of the ride when that happens.

    • UFAlien says:

      At first I thought it was a wind/weight issue too, but the park’s renders of the ride show a brake there.

    • GodfreyOriole says:

      I looked at the ride and it seems poorly designed. Typical for Premier rides. Great adventure had a launch coaster called Batman and robin the chiller which was an awesome coaster but poorly designed. always broke down.

      This ride looks like it was not designed with launch system malfuntions taken into consideration (the same with chiller). If you look at the begining of the ride I can see this happening a lot. After the chiller fiasco I am surprised six flags still does business with them.

      The rumor was that the lims are poorly designed and would blow all the time. This ride seems like it will suffer the same problems.

  14. Raziya says:

    This is seriously my nightmare.

    Not like I’d get on that in the first place, but just reading this gave made my stomach drop at the thought of being stuck at that height.

  15. MikeM_inMD says:

    I hope the firemen passed out water and sunscreen when they got up there. 2 hours in full sun can be really harsh if you aren’t prepared.

  16. frodolives35 says:

    My son and I got stuck on the Tilt a Whirl for about 25 minutes years ago at a small park called Liberty Land in Memphis. It was fun the first 5 minutes.

  17. 180CS says:

    For everyone talking about being left in the dark….

    Why not get out your cell phone and call the park/911? I’ve never been on a roller coaster where I would have been unable to wiggle it out of my pants pocket if I had this kind of time on my hands. Mass group of people flooding the park with calls = jammed phones & bigger problem until the coaster is fixed…even bigger problem if 911 is being bombarded because the park is not keeping their patrons calm.

    • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

      So screw the park trying to call for help. Better for you to be tying up 911 and the parks phone line then the people who know what is going on and trying to call in the appropriate crews.

      • 180CS says:

        Actually, most state regulations say that rides have to be inspected so often that a park has to have multiple mechanics/technicians to keep up with this. Cause even more of a problem for them, and there’s a greater chance that they’ll close a couple other rides, in order to get more mechanics working to get you off the stuck ride.

        Interestingly enough, I’ve never seen a park actually do this, even though they could (and should). Moreover, tying up incoming phone lines will NOT stop them from making their outgoing calls.

  18. Press1forDialTone says:

    If you’re going to be “brave” (stupid?) enough to get on one of these
    death traps, then quit whining when it breaks and you have to delay
    your incredibly important schedule while the real technicians get you
    safely down.

    Also, who here on the blog is -really- and I mean really an expert on
    the operation of these rides? None? Okay, that explains a lot.

    My point is: You signed on for the “ride of your life” knowing you
    could really get killed if all the safety devices fail, so when it breaks
    and you get scared, grow a couple and wait for the experts to help.

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      You’re right – if someone chooses to engage in an activity, then they should just suck it up if something bad happens. Like how no one should complain if they get hit by another vehicle while driving, and are trapped for several hours. After all, they chose to drive.


  19. GodfreyOriole says:

    It was probably a bad sensor. In specific locations rollercoasters have these blue or green sensors that detect the coaster train going by. IF the sensor is broken then the ride system will not detect the coaster car going by and will e-stop the ride. This is probably what happened.

    I witnessed this on Nitro at Six flags great adventure. I am the nosey one who sat there after everybody else left the ride and talked to the ride mechanics. In the Nitro case it was the ride sensor at the very top of the lift hill. It sent the train up the lift hill and estopped the ride as soon as the train reached the top. They had to send a tech out and he found a bad sensor.

    Like somebody else stated I also witnessed an estop due to the air gates in the station. Rides with airgates have the airgates directly tide to the ride system. I witnessed superman ultimate flight at great adventure estoop due to a bad airgate pump.

    These rides are super safe and will estop if just one small thing goes wrong.

  20. incident-man stole my avatar says:

    Last century while at Disney World the newly opened Tower of Terror broke. We heard 2 “cast members” discussing how they don’t ride the new ride for at least six months so all the kinks can be worked out.

  21. BigDragon says:

    I suddenly have the urge to play Roller Coaster Tycoon again. I miss the days of “station breaks failure” and watching the TNT-laden trains explode after running through their breaks at full speed right into each other. That taught me to elevate my coaster stations. It was annoying when trying to win a scenario, but hilarious when screwing around!

    For this story, it’s shocking to me they would put a break run at the top of the ride without any sort of platform or stairway for easy access. Huge design flaw.

  22. MTinVT says:

    We got stuck on Disney’s DINOSAUR ride in Orlando in one of the “hummer” style vehicles. It just quit, mid-ride and although we were on the ground the seat belts you couldn’t remove.

    Being somewhat claustrophobic I was having mild panic attacks because the seat belt was so tight….If had my jack knife with me, I would have cut it off and suffered the consequences later, but because they could see me in distress we were the first taken off.