Four people have been seriously injured after two carriages on ‘The Smiler’ rollercoaster at Alton Towers smashed into each other “like a high-speed car crash”.
Emergency services were called at 2.09pm yesterday (Tue) after a carriage carrying 16 thrill-seekers ploughed into another on a lower section of the track at the theme park.
Staff evacuated the £18 million ride and the nearby area while four ambulances and the Midlands Air Ambulance were quickly scrambled to the scene.
Witnesses described seeing “blood everywhere” after one cart smashed into an empty stationary carriage at an estimated 50mph.
At least four people were taken to hospital with serious injuries after being rescued from the record-breaking mega ride.
Visitor Ben Richardson, 18, said it appeared staff had sent an empty carriage out onto the track as a test, which then got stuck before another full of people collided into it.
The quantity surveyor, from Swandlincote, Derbs., said: “I was just sitting nearby and a carriage that had got passengers in started off even though there was an empty one stuck on the track.
“It looked like it was sent out as a test and this carriage with people on went out and smashed into the back of it.
“The one with passengers had just come out of an inversion so it was like a horrific high speed car crash.
“I saw it all, there was a huge bump and when they came together they both crumpled because it was metal-on-metal at a high speed.
“No-one got thrown out, it was too far to see injuries but definitely they would have all had very bad whiplash at least.
“The passengers were screaming and people nearby were running over.
“The Alton Towers staff quickly moved people away from the area so we haven’t been able to go anywhere near it since.”
Ben, who was on a day out with his girlfriend and her parents, said they were told ‘The Smiler’ was having “technical issues” earlier in the day.
He added: “We went on it first thing this morning.
“When we were queuing they said they had a few technical difficulties. It stopped for about 10 to 15 minutes but then it was back up and running again.
“Obviously you feel for the people hurt and injured but we had a very lucky escape.”
Kevin Hayes-Heath also told how he was in the carriage with his partner Wayne when disaster struck at the Staffordshire-based attraction.
He said debris hit him on the shoulder and his partner in the face whilst a teenage girl and her father were also hit.
He added: “You are at the highest point of the ride and you’ve got all these loops to do and you just think that the carriage is going to come off.
“We were shouting at them to stop the ride because they were about to send another party off.”
Other witnesses took to social media to express their shock.
Danny Simm tweeted: “Big accident at Alton Towers, one train from The Smiler crashed into the other.
“One test cart got stuck with nobody in it but the ride operators still sent another cart with people in it round. Then it crashed. A big big human error.
“People unconscious on the ride with faces smashed in and blood everywhere. I think it will be closed for a while.”
A spokesperson for West Midlands Ambulance Service said: “There are 16 patients on board The Smiler requiring triage, four of which have reported serious injuries.
“Ambulance staff and medics are working quickly with resort staff to gain access to the seriously injured.
“A 999 call was received from the resort at 2.09pm reporting that a carriage of The Smiler had collided with a stationary carriage.
“Community first responders based at the theme park were first on scene and four ambulances, the Midlands Air Ambulance from Cosford with a MERIT trauma doctor on board, two further BASICS doctors and several senior paramedic managers have been sent to the scene.”
A spokesperson for Alton Towers added: “The resort’s fully qualified first responders were on the scene immediately to assist with the evacuation which is ongoing, and the area has been closed to allow for access to emergency services vehicles.
“To ensure the safe and timely evacuation of guests a platform is being constructed. This will take a few minutes but will enable us to proceed more quickly.
“There will be a full investigation once we have recovered the guests who are our priority.”
A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said: “We are aware of what has happened and have launched an investigation into it. It is too early to tell at this stage whether we will call from an inquiry.”
The Smiler opened in May 2013 and is billed as the world’s first 14 loop rollercoaster and is described as “not being for faint hearted”.
It holds the official Guinness World Record for most loops in a rollercoaster, according to the Alton Towers website.
The resort claims that it features “a series of twisted psychological effects including optical illusions, blinding lights and near misses designed to mess with your mind”.
The ride, which took two years to create, lasts two minutes and 45 seconds and has drops of 98ft (60m) and hits speeds of up to 53mph.
However the £18 million rollercoaster has been plagued with problems since it opened just over a year ago.
During a press launch 16 people had to be rescued after it broke down – causing the planned opening to be delayed due to technical issues.
And in July 2013, terrified thrill-seekers had to dive for cover when a 1ft piece of track broke off and landed close to the queue.
Previously, in July 2006, 29 people were injured when a carriage broke free and trapped passengers on the Runaway Mine Train rollercoaster at Alton Towers.
The front wagon of the Runaway Mine Train separated, rolled back and collided with the rest of the vehicle.
Staff halted the white-knuckle ride and it took around 40 minutes for all 46 occupants to be evacuated.
Four were taken to hospital, with two women in their early 40s airlifted there. Most of those hurt were treated on the scene for cuts and bruises.
Eyewitness Olivia Marston, 21, who was on the ride less than half an hour before the crash, said: “An empty cart went round the loop but couldn’t get all the way round, this meant it fell backwards down the loop.
“The empty cart was swinging backwards and forwards for a while.
“Then a cart full of people smashed right into the back of the empty cart.
“It had just come down a loop so at some speed
“The bang was horrendous. Absolutely horrific.”
Shaun Hampton, 20, who was visiting the park with friends, added: “I was on the Smiler an hour before it happened.
“When I saw the helicopters flying over at about 3pm I knew something was serious but when I heard how bad it was I couldn’t believe it.”
Bramley Sunnyside Junior School in Rotherham, South Yorks., also announced they had cancelled a trip to Alton Towers for today (Wed).
Taking to their Twitter account, the school said: “Due to a serious accident at Alton Towers, Y5 visit tomorrow has been postponed.
“Children’s health and safety is paramount.”
The four casualties seriously injured were airlifted to hospital yesterday evening (Tue) as theme park bosses admitted the crash was the worst accident in Alton Towers’ 35 year history.
Two couples, aged in their 20s, suffered “significant crush-type lower limb injuries”, which were described as critical but not life threatening.
Four others remained trapped on the ride last night as rescue teams worked to free them five hours after the crash.
Ian Crabbe, Alton Towers divisional director, admitted their multi-million pound roller coaster “had issues” but believed they were not to blame for the incident.
Speaking to media assembled by a grass verge next to ‘The Smiler’ yesterday evening (Tue) he said:”May I first say that my colleagues and I are devastated by what has happened here today.
“Our only priority at this time is to work with the emergency services to get the 16 people affected off the ride safely, and most importantly those who are injured are being cared for.
“Our concern is with and for them and for their safety, and all our thoughts and efforts are focused on them.
“I can confirm there was an incident at around 2pm today involving one empty train and one full train with 16 people inside
“We don’t know the full details of the incident at this time.”
Mr Crabbe said that the park‘s first responder team were at the scene “in minutes” with the emergency services attending shortly afterwards.
He added: “I would like to thank them for their quick response.
“A full investigation is under way, and representatives of the Health and Safety Executive are already on site and working with us.
“Our major concern is with those injured.
“This ride has had its issues but that’s normal for roller coasters.
“I don’t think it would be fair to reflect on those issues and say they are say they are connected which I don’t think they are.
“The staff at this resort are extremely caring towards our visitors.
“Their first thought would have been guests’ safety.
“I had not been told of any problems with The Smiler prior to the accident on the day.
“I have been here for six years and I think this is probably the worst accident in Alton Towers’ history.”
Steve Wheaton, incident commander with West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “We deployed four land ambulances and four air ambulances to the scene.
“Four patients have significant crush-type lower limb injuries below the knee and they were trapped in the carriages for some time.
“We believe the other patients are walking wounded.
“Of the four critically injured two women in their twenties have gone to the Royal Stoke University Hospital and two men have been taken to the the trauma centre at Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital.
“We believe they are two separate couples and we do not know if they are local.
“There are four people still on the ride and we hope to save them shortly.
“All four critical patients were seen by a senior trauma doctor at the park and we don’t think their injuries are life threatening.”
Superintendent Jane Hewett, of Staffordshire Police, said: “There are a number of families that will be concerned about their relatives possibly being injured.
“A casualty bureau has been established so we can help Alton Towers deal with its high volume of calls. Any friends and families can contact 0800 056 0154.”
Senior fire commander with Staffordshire Fire and Rescue, Dean Stevens, said: “We were mobilised very quickly and worked closely with the park‘s rescue teams and emergency services to establish a clear line to rescue the 16 people trapped in the ride at that time.
“We used ropes and aerial ladder platforms to lift them to safety and bring them down.
“This is a difficult and protracted incident. We need to think about the safety of those still trapped.”
West Midlands Ambulance Service confirmed last night (Tue) all injured riders had been rescued from ‘The Smiler’.
They also said the two men badly injured were aged 18 and 27, while the female passengers – believed to be their partners – were aged 19 and 17.
A spokeswoman said: “There were 16 occupants on board the carriage which collided with a stationary unoccupied carriage.
“A platform was built in order for emergency services to reach the occupants on the ride who were approximately 25 feet up in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees.
“The Trust’s HART paramedics, doctors, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Alton Towers’ rope rescue staff worked at height to carefully release and treat the occupants. The focus on the emergency services was to treat and release four of the occupants who were the most seriously injured.
“Two males and two females sustained lower leg injuries.
“All four were given advanced trauma care, pain relief and immobilisation and were each carefully extricated from the ride and onto the platform before being lowered to the ground.
“The 27 years old male was then airlifted to University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire whilst the others were flown to Royal Stoke University Hospital for further emergency treatment.
“The remaining 12 occupants, six women and six men, suffered less serious injuries.
“They were released one at a time over a time period of four hours and lowered to the ground in order for a further assessment of their condition.
“One of the twelve, a male in his 20s was treated for neck and abdominal injury and was taken to the Royal Stoke University Hospital by land ambulance for further assessment and treatment.”