By this point, many of you have probably heard that after a series of incidents that occurred over the summer, the dueling inverted Dragon Challenge will no longer be dueling…EVER. Though the park had only stopped the rides from dueling for a temporary time to try and get to the root of the problem, it now appears that change will be permanent. But did they make the right decision? Was there a problem with the ride? Or were they somehow sabotaged and forced to make the change to appease insurance companies in a lawsuit-happy America?
First of all, I want to look at the incidents themselves. All three incidents occurred within a matter of weeks, and all three had passengers on the front row injured from an object which nobody saw. All three occurred when the rides were barreling towards each other for their head-to-head loops. In one case, that damage was an eye injury which continues to linger and is building up medical costs for the family. At first, I thought the story seemed rather fishy, and that perhaps it was just someone visiting the park looking for some lawsuit money who intentionally injured themselves, since nobody else seemed to see anything. But then a few other similar incidents happened over the next few weeks, leading to a mystery. The park finished its investigation and found no mechanical or maintenance issues with the rides, and no evidence was found surrounding objects that may have caused the injuries. So what could it be?
Well, the obvious first thought is a “loose article” that flew off and hit someone, but there are several problems with that theory: 1) because of the trains paths, for an object to fly from one train and hit someone on the other with a strong enough force would require precise timing and one train to be somewhat ahead of the other for the right trajectory. Even still, the object would have to be moving upwards with the opposing train to strike someone in the front car, and as a result would not hit very hard (relative speed would be lower). And again, timing would have to be pretty much perfect. 2) To cause the damage it did, the object would likely have to be larger, like a shoe, keys, camera, phone, or something similar, but that would make it obvious to see…but nobody ever saw the object. 3) Nobody reported any missing objects at that time. If you lost a shoe, phone, keys, or camera, would you not let them know so you could get it back? 4) No objects were found in the “area of impact,” meaning there were no phones, keys, or other types of objects that could have obviously been lost and potentially caused injury. So it’s not looking likely that it was just a “loose article.”
There is another possibility however, and it’s not a terribly friendly one, “sabotage” by park guests. There is one type of object that is small enough nobody would see it, dense and sharp enough to cause serious damage even at a small size, and camouflaged enough that it could land on the ground and never be detected…like say rocks? It wouldn’t be hard for a guest, say a mischevious, unsupervised kid to grab a rock, put it in their pocket, and toss it at the oncoming train “for kicks and giggles.” And this is not unheard of…there’s a reason that nets are often installed when trains pass near walkways, to prevent people from throwing “harmless” objects at the trains for game or fun. It’s conceivable that this on-coming train could have become a target for these same type of people.
There could very well be another explanation or other possibilities…but isn’t it odd that the events occurred very near each other, nobody ever saw any objects, no evidence was found, no mechanical issues were found, and as soon as the rides stopped dueling, no more injuries occurred. To me, that points all the evidence towards unruly guests ruining the experience for everyone for their own “entertainment.”
Unfortunately, the park has made the decision to permanently remove the dueling element from this iconic duo, no doubt its biggest selling point and the driving force behind the layout and elements. While I don’t agree with the parks decision, it’s also likely it was not their decision, but rather that of insurance companies, who force amusement parks in the US to follow stupidly restrictive guidelines to get insurance coverage because of how “sue-happy” this country is compared to others (insurance is the reason for the near-extinction of fun houses in the US).
A better solution to me would have been for the park to install cameras on the front cars of each train to monitor guests. If someone looked like they were doing something fishy, or a guest were injured by an object, it would allow the park to identify the time and location of the incident, identify the object, and possibly identify the cause of the problem. Unfortunately, they didn’t do that, or perhaps had no choice but to stop the dueling permanently. It’s quite sad to see one of the few dueling coasters out there get “neutered,” so-to-speak, especially given that it appears more and more to me to be sabotage, and not a ride-related incident.