Over the past few weeks, things have been developing briskly and harshly in the fight between SeaWorld and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). After trainer Dawn Brancheau was drug underwater and killed on February 24, 2010 by Tilikum, the parks largest Orca whale, OSHA brought three citations against SeaWorld and accused them of committing a “willful” safety violation, its most severe classification, by not “more adequately protecting trainers.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, OSHA’s ruling against the park not only slaps the park with a $75,000 fine, but what they want to require of trainers working with animals could put much more at stake for the $1.2 billion-a-year business at SeaWorld parks. The ruling could also open up potential for a whole new slew of potential lawsuits, and could affect zoos and animal parks throughout the US in a similar way. Jack Hanna, celebrity biologist and director of the Columbus Zoo told the Orlando Sentinel “A lot of people are following this. I’m concerned about the about the outcome. And I think anybody in our business should be.”
The biggest problem SeaWorld faces isn’t even the accusation that it committed a “willful” safety violation, but OSHA’s proposal for how the problem be fixed, or “abated.” Not only do they recommend prohibiting trainers from being in the water with the whales, but even from being at the edges of the pool unless protected by a “physical barrier.” OSHA has stated that for smaller animals at SeaWorld, they may not need such drastic measures, but would still “accept other means of abatement,” including but not limited to: decking systems, emergency oxygen supplies, and vast engineering changes. While it may be the safest measure and precaution that could be taken, it would also be the most costly and prohibitive.
Since the incident, trainers have been prohibited from being in the water with the park’s killer whales, but the company has made it clear over the months it would like to find a solution to allow them to interact in the water once again. SeaWorld is ready to spend tens of millions of dollars in safety improvements, such as a “false-bottom floor” they’ve installed in the same pool Brancheau was killed in, as well as vests for trainers to wear with emergency air supplies. If tests with these innovations are successful, and the whales can be trained to ignore the vests, SeaWorld plans to utilize these in all their pools at all of their parks. Even still, OSHA wants more, they want the “physical barrier.” Pending the results of the hearing, if SeaWorld resumes water work, it could face a fines of $7,000 per day.
This past week, SeaWorld went to court with OSHA for a hearing, with SeaWorld fighting against OSHA’s accusations of “willful” safety violations. SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides said in a statement, as reported by WESH Orlando, “SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA. These allegations are completely basesless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent, and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
SeaWorld has a reputation of being one of the best in the world when it comes to marine life rescue, rehabilitation, care, commitment, and training. In the hearing last week, they challenged the testimony of Dave Duffus, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia whom OSHA is using to argue against the safety aspect of their findings. But SeaWorld questioned much of his testimony since his research involves wild, rather than captive, whales, and even got him to admit and support that SeaWorld was among the best at what they do. The hearing, which took place over last week, is now in recess until mid-November, so stay tuned at that time for any more developments from this story.
It was announced just yesterday that long time industry giant Ron Toomer, 81, passed away peacefully in his sleep after a strenuous four month battle with cancer. Ronald Valentine Toomer is survived by his wife of 54 years, Betty Toomer, his four children and their spouses, as well as his nine grandchildren.
Ron Toomer was born in Pasadena, California on May 31, 1920, where he spent his early life until being drafted into the U.S. Army. Upon his return, he got his degree and worked as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry, even doing work for the NASA Apollo space program. According to Amusement Today, in his free time he enjoyed making hand-carved waterfowl and putting together wooden car kits, reading, crossword puzzles, cooking, and gardening. He is most known, however, for his massive impact on the amusement industry.
Toomer first joined Arrow Dynamics in 1965, then known as the Arrow Development Company, after he found out one of his coworkers on the space program had previously been a welder for the company. When he first joined Arrow Dynamics, he was brought on to help work on the company’s first mine train roller coaster, the Run-A-Way Mine Train at Six Flags Over Texas. Over the next 30 years in the industry, Ron had his hands in designing over 80 steel coasters worldwide, including the first modern era looping coaster, the Corkscrew at Knott’s Berry Farm, the record breaking Magnum XL-200, the first suspended coaster with Big Bad Wolf, and countless others.
In 1986, he became the president of Arrow Dynamics, right at the time the company was trying to develop a Pipeline coaster. This project, however, ran out of funds before the prototype could ever be completed, and the design died. He had admitted several times over the years to different sources, that he never rode the coasters he designed, but that’s because of the motion sickness he got rather than anything else. Amusement Today reports that he felt most proud of his contribution to the first “practical upside-down coaster elements (The Corkscrew)” as well as his induction into the IAAPA Hall of Fame in 2000.
There will be a memorial service held in Ron Toomer’s honor this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 11 a.m. at the Martin United Methodist Church in Bedfor, Texas. Flowers and cards may be sent to the church at 2621 Bedford Road, Bedford Texas 76021. R.I.P. Ron Toomer (1920 – 2011).
Busch Gardens Williamsburg has announced their new attraction for 2012, Verbolten. The name is derived from the German word Verboten which means forbidden.
Verbolten is being manufactured by Zierer, a company who normally specializes in family rides. The firm actually built Grover's Alpine Express at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, along with Blackbeard's Lost Treasure Train at Six Flags Great Adventure and Jaguar! at Knott's Berry Farm.
Verbolten is a family launch coaster and will feature two launches in its layout. No inversions have been confirmed, but the ride will be 2835' in length and will feature an 88' drop. Other statistics include a 53 MPH speed, a 48" height restriction, and a ride time of 3 minutes, 25 seconds, which is unusually long for such a short layout.
Verbolten has a storyline to go along with its German-derived name. The cars are themed to sports cars, and, somehow, the car is possessed to go into the forbidden forest. This is when the car launches into an indoor section which includes special effects that make it appear like it is raining.
Verbolten will be placed in the old path of the beloved Big Bad Wolf which was considered a thrilling family coaster. Big Bad Wolf opened in 1984 and closed in 2009. This is the second Arrow Dynamics coaster to leave the park and not be relocated. The first was Drachen Fire which lasted 10 years at the park and featured many unique elements such as the wraparound corkscrew and cutback. Big Bad Wolf was unique in its own way, with two lifts, and the memorable drop towards the park’s version of the Rhine River. The ride was considered one of the best of the Arrow Suspended Coasters, especially since XLR8 which opened that same year at Six Flags Astroworld. XLR8 was considered very tame compared to the Wolf.
Cedar Fair has just announced that it is now officially looking to sell its California’s Great America amusement park in Santa Clara, California. Cedar Fair stated that they are selling the park to help reduce its debt, and has entered into an agreement to sell the park to JMA Ventures, LLC (JMA) for $70 million.
JMA Ventures, LLC, is a real estate and investment firm who manages projects in hospitality and leisure properties among others. The company is perhaps most well-known in California for its ownership in major mountain and ski resorts, including: Alpine Meadows, Fairmont Heritage Place, and Red Lodge Mountain. The company has been in operation in this line of business since 1986, and Cedar Fair seems to have no doubts they will be more than competent manages of the parks future.
Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel stated in the press release, “Our decision to divest of our California’s Great America park was not an easy one…we determined that divesting a smaller park like California’s Great America at an attractive market value created a compelling business opportunity we couldn’t pass up.” Namely, selling the smaller park gives the company a chance to reduce its debt without greatly affecting its current lineup of parks, giving them greater financial flexibility in the coming years.
The California’s Great America park is one of the leading parks in the area, featuring over 50 rides and attractions, but the park seems to have fallen by the wayside over the years. Over the past few years, the ride has seen the loss of several rides and attractions, such as the recently announced removal of the parks Invertigo roller coaster, but has seen few additions to the parks lineup of rides. The last ride additions to the park were 2008’s FireFall Top Spin attraction from HUSS, and the 2006 Zamerla Disk’O attraction. Other than those two rides, the majority of the parks additions have been shows and waterpark expansions.
While the agreement has been made between Cedar Fair and JMA, it is still subject to approval by the City of Santa Clara and closing conditions, but is expected to close without any issues in the fourth quarter of 2011. As mentioned previously, once the transaction is completed, it is expected the $70 million will be applied to the company’s secured debt.
More than a year and a half after the death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, the tragic incident is still alive and well in court. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suing SeaWorld over its lack of safety for the park’s killer whale trainers.
The park was fined $75,000 last August over safety violations related to Brancheau’s death, as reported by COASTER-net. OSHA’s investigations uncovered increased violations, leading to the lawsuit.
According to wtsp.com, a Florida news station, OSHA uncovered that the theme park would give new employees a “Tilli Talk,” and trainers were given a warning that getting in the water with Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, could result in serious injury or death. However, SeaWorld has denied these allegations.
Additionally, OSHA has questioned how SeaWorld has changed their stadiums and shows since the accident. When asked, SeaWorld executives stated they “couldn’t remember,” about the changes. SeaWorld told news stations last year about the changes they had made to keep trainers safe, in direct conflict of the administrators’ lack of recollection.
SeaWorld has stated that these changes were not “an admission that killer whales are dangerous,” according to wtsp.com. Despite all of OSHA’s doubts, though, trainers have not since been in the water with the whales.
In correlation with the lawsuit, Brancheau’s family is fighting the release of the video of Brancheau’s death. SeaWorld surveillance cameras caught the entire incident, and the trainer’s widower, Scott Brancheau wished the tape to be sealed. Florida has barred the video from being shown, but this does not apply to OSHA, only to media and SeaWorld.
Much to the distress of the family, OSHA has refused to guarantee the confidentiality of the video, according to wesh.com, another Orlando news site. OSHA has been given until September 12th to respond to the family’s pleas by an Orlando federal judge.
OSHA’s hearing for the SeaWorld investigation is to be held on September 19th. COASTER-net.com will be following the story as more updates are released.
After weeks of releasing clues and tidbits of images of the ride, Dollywood finally made an official announcement regarding their new attraction for 2012. Last night, during the grand Boomsday event held every year, Dolly announced that the park would be receiving the Wild Eagle roller coaster in 2012, a $20 million B&M Wing Coaster featuring numerous twists and inversions.
Back as far as late-March of this year, speculation began circulating that the park was planning something big for 2012, possibly a large coaster, when several plans were submitted that required several buildings to be relocated and a large excavation site. By mid-May, survey markers were beginning to show up on the hill in the middle of the park, visible from the SkyZip attraction. Excavation of the hill and clearing of trees continued over the next few weeks, with even a few footers popping up. Finally, in mid-June, coaster-geeks got their first real clue about the coaster, when some B&M track was spotted on I-71 in Kentucky heading in the direction of Dollywood. Shortly after, the track and supports began piling up in various places around the park, and the only speculation left was what kind of coaster it might be.
Everyone can rest at east now, and many can say “I told you so” now that Dolly has confirmed what most were beginning to think: Dollywood is getting a Wing Rider/Coaster for 2012. Still a relatively new design for B&M, the Wing Coaster features seats only on the “wings” of the coaster, with no seating over the track, and nothing below rider’s feet. Wild Eagle will rise a total of 210 feet into the sky, sitting on the highest peak in the park, with loading in the Wilderness Pass area. From here, the ride will drop down a traditional style hill, hitting a top speed of 61 mph, before traversing through a vertical loop, zero-g roll, immelman, large flatspin, camelback/bunny hill, and a spiraling figure-eight twist element, all along 3,127 feet of track.
Because of the ride’s location near a large hill, the first drop will only stand 135 feet high, but that point is 210 feet above the station, which should give the ride a feeling of speeding up as it goes further down the hill through its inversions. The trains will consist of seven cars which carry four passengers each, for a total of 28-passengers, and vehicles will feature a bald eagle with “piercing eyes and broad wings outstretched for flight.”
According to the park’s press release, Wild Eagle will be the largest single capital investment in the parks 26-year history. The park decided to go with an Eagle theme not only because it fit the ride so well, but to honor our nation’s symbol, and to celebrate the efforts that have been made to increase the Eagle population to the point they are no longer an endangered species. Dollywood is the homeland for the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) and one of their largest benefactors.
Wild Eagle joins a lineup of highly acclaimed coasters at Dollywood, ranging from Thunderhead, rated as one of the world’s best coasters, to Mystery Mine, the highly-themed, slightly quirky Euro-fighter coaster, and Tennessee Tornado, the “short-but-sweet” Arrow looping coaster.
Last year, Bolliger and Mabillard stunned the coaster world with its introduction of Raptor at Gardaland in Veneto, Italy. Now, Six Flags Great America is making waves as the first North American park to announce the construction of a similar Wing Coaster, X Flight.
Raptor was a prototype design of B&M's first new coaster model since they debuted their Diving Machine in 1998 with Oblivion at Alton Towers. B&M has dubbed this new model a Wing Coaster due to the fact that the seats are situated outside the rails instead of directly over or under them. The concept was originally used on Arrow Dynamics, and later S&S's 4D coaster models, and in 2007, Intamin produced a model without spinning cars known as Furious Baco. B&M's take on the concept also features stationary cars but also attempted a much more convoluted layout than Baco, including three inversions and several "near miss" elements involving the ride's detailed scenery.
X Flight at Six Flags Great America will up the ante even more, featuring five mind numbing inversions in its 3,000 ft layout. Of special note in this layout is a first of its kind "inverted" first drop, where the train will roll over at the top of the lift hill before plunging down to reach its top speed of 55 miles per hour. The rest of the layout includes two Zero-G Rolls, an Immelmann, and an elongated Inline Roll. When this incredible ride opens in the Spring of 2012, it will bring new life back into the County Fair section of the park which recently just lost the stand-up coaster Iron Wolf as it moves to Six Flags America in Marlboro, Maryland. Its fitting I guess that, although Six Flags Great America is losing the first ever coaster by B&M, they are replacing it with the first B&M Wing Coaster in the United States.
Six Flags Magic Mountain, the park constantly competing with Cedar Point to be the “coaster capital of the world,” announced its new-for-2012 attraction this morning, Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom. The Drop of Doom will be a custom-designed INTAMIN drop tower, standing 400-feet tall alongside Superman: Escape from Krypton.
Named after one of DC Comics most evil super-villians, and Superman’s arch enemy, the Drop of Doom will actually reside on the side of the tower that Superman: Escape from Krypton rides up. The ride will feature floorless gondolas that will haul eight guests up (one-on-each side) the sides of Superman’s tower. Upon reaching the top, the cars will hold for just a few brief seconds before being released and plummeting down to earth at nearly 85 mph, inducing five seconds of pure freefall and weightlessness. At 400-feet tall, it will stand as the world’s tallest freefall ride.
Six Flags Magic Mountain Park President Bonnie Rabjohn stated in the park’s press release, “We are excited to add another world record to our collection of record-breaking, first-on-the-planet attractions.” Though the park boasts that Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom will change the face of the park’s skyline, technically, it won’t, given that the ride will be on the side of the existing tower that Superman already utilizes.
Just this past year, the park overhauled its Superman coaster, giving it new trains, new paint, and turning the trains backwards (or at least one train), turning it from Superman: The Escape into Superman: Escape from Krypton. Along with that, the park finally opened Road Runner Express, a kiddie coaster which formerly operated at the SBNO Six Flags New Orleans. The park also opened another new coaster, Green Lantern: First Flight, an Intamin ZacSpin coaster, which officially gave Six Flags Magic Mountain the “coaster capital of the world” crown, having the most coasters at 18.
Next year, the park will be relinquishing its hold on that title and have to settle for a tie once again with Cedar Point, as Six Flags Magic Mountain has already announced that its Vekoma Giant Inverted Boomerang coaster, Déjà vu, will be leaving the park. Déjà vu will be heading to Six Flags New England next year, but further details about that move can be found in another announcement.
Despite losing its coaster crown to a tie, Six Flags Magic Mountain continues to up the ante on its selection of thrill rides, upping it to 400 feet that is. Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom is sure to give guests some amazing panoramic views along with its five seconds of airtime and extreme thrills.