A terrible accident has seen a 10-year-old boy, Caleb Schwab, killed on the Verruckt slide at Schlitterbahn, Kansas, USA. The 51 metre waterslide is the tallest in the world, with raft speed exceeding 100 kph.
Reports indicate the boy was decapitated in front of horrified witnesses.
The opening of the waterslide was delayed twice in 2014 due to safety issues discovered during testing.
Video has since emerged of the testing carried out prior to the slide opening, showing test rafts flying off the rising section of the slide.
Safety strap issues
Twitter comments on the Schlitterbahn feed suggest that some patrons had problems with the safety harnesses on the Verruckt ride, and some patrons have also discussed this problem with US TV stations.
Riders are harnessed in with two nylon seatbelt-like straps: one crosses the rider’s lap, the other stretches diagonally like a car shoulder seatbelt. Each strap is held in place by long Velcro-style straps, not by buckles. Riders also hang on to ropes inside the raft.
Paul Oberhauser told television station KCTV that his shoulder restraint “busted loose” on his Verruckt raft on July 26. The Nebraska man said he “just held on,” and a video shot by his wife shows the strap loose at the ride’s end. Oberhauser said he reported the matter to park workers.
Kenneth Conrad told Fox that during his trip down the waterslide last year with a friend, the friend’s shoulder strap came completely off. Conrad’s wife snapped a photo at the end of the ride showing the strap missing. Conrad didn’t file a complaint with the park.
Another witness Esteban Castaneda told ABC News that he and his 14-year-old cousin had ridden the slide earlier that day and the teen told him that towards the end of the ride, the Velcro on her belt had come undone.
However, it is not known if the straps played any role in the death as neither police nor Schlitterbahn have provided details.
Like jumping off the Empire State Building
In 2014, co-owner and Verruckt creator Jess Henry told USA Today they had many issues on the engineering side as much of their calculations initially were based on rollercoasters which didn’t translate to waterslides. He said that after riding it he was still recovering mentally.
“It’s like jumping off the Empire State Building. It’s the scariest thing I’ve done.”
Caleb was the son of Kansas lawmaker Scott Schwab. He was found dead in the pool at the bottom of the slide and police confirmed to People magazine that he had been decapitated.
Witness Kelsey Friedrichsen, earlier told People that she and her boyfriend were on their way up to the top of the slide for their scheduled ride when they saw a large group gathered at the bottom.
“There was a woman being treated for some kind of injury on her face and head,” Friedrichsen, 27, told People. “That was when my boyfriend said, ‘I think there is someone else’.”
What her boyfriend Josh Foster pointed out was first responders covering the body of 10-year-old Caleb. Two women in the boat with him – neither related to Caleb – suffered minor facial injuries.
“It looked like he must have somehow been ejected from his seat, bounced around between the netting and the slide and just slid down,” Friedrichsen said. “He would have fallen down without the raft. It’s kind of like a tube.”
The park has been shut down while an investigation into the boy’s death continues. The Verruckt will be closed for the rest of the season.
Kansas Senator David Haley has demanded better regulation of amusement parks as it was revealed the Verruckt ride had not been inspected by the state since it was opened.
Schwab and his wife released a statement confirming it was their son Caleb Thomas Schwab, whose family were at the park with him when he died.
Asking for privacy to grieve, they said: “Since the day he was born, he brought abundant joy to our family and all those he came in contact with.”
Kansas Police Department has released a statement, expressing their condolences to the Schwab family after the tragic loss of Caleb.
In the statement, police said: “Caleb Schwab was 1 of 3 passengers riding in a boat on the Verruckt Water Slide on August 7th, 2016. At approximately 1430 hours an off duty officer working at Schlitterbahn notified police dispatch that an incident had occurred on the Verruckt Water Slide, and assistance was needed.
“The Kansas City, Kansas Police and Fire Departments responded to the scene and located Caleb Schwab, 10 years old, dead from a fatal neck injury at the end of the ride, in the pool. The 2 other adult female riders in the boat, not related to the victim, sustained minor facial injuries, and were transported and treated at area hospitals.”
Police are investigating the death as a criminal case although police spokesman said that designation did not mean they suspect foul play.
Since this story published, Schlitterbahn has said they will demolish the slide.