Observers await details regarding a fatality that occurred on the world’s tallest water slide.
On Aug. 7, 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed in an accident on the Verrückt water slide at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. The attraction stands 168 feet, 7 inches high and has been verified as the tallest water slide by Guinness World Records.
It is not known at press time exactly what transpired. At first, the cause of death was characterized as a neck injury, but the Kansas City Police Department confirmed to some major press outlets that the child had been decapitated. Schlitterbahn will not comment, and a police investigation is ongoing.
But the general media have relayed accounts from witnesses and patrons that show common themes. Some who rode the slide before the accident reported harnesses coming undone. Straps are said to be secured with a hook-and-loop material, which many refer to by the trademarked name Velcro, but is made by others, too. Velcro, the manufacturer, said it does not sell its product to amusement parks. There exists marine-grade hook-and-loop products, but it isn’t known whether that was used on Verrückt.
Police have largely put to rest one concern — whether there was enough weight in the raft to help stabilize it. Caleb Schwab rode in front, with two unrelated women in back. Specifications state the rafts should carry 400 to 550 pounds. The initial police report showed a combined weight of 393 pounds. However, the figures were updated and added up to 545 pounds., said Officer Cameron Morgan, a spokesperson for the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department. Some continue to wonder if it made sense for the young Schwab, who weighed 73 pounds., to ride in front, with the adults in back.
The issue of regulation also has been raised. Not only was the Schlitterbahn incident horrific on its own, but two high-profile accidents occurred at other dry amusement parks within days of each other, raising questions about whether tighter regulations are necessary. Caleb Schwab was the child of Scott Schwab, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, which caused some to wonder if the state’s legislative branch might pursue the issue. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has said he is open to tightening regulations and that he hopes the legislature will explore the issue.
Specifications pertaining to these rides and their use often come from their designers and manufacturers, and ANSI produces a standard for water slides. Government regulation is handled on a state level. But some have asked if the federal government should step in. The World Waterpark Association and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, which expressed sympathy for the families and a commitment to safety, maintained that state- and local-level regulation prove most effective.
“Waterparks come in all shapes and sizes,” said Aleatha Ezra, director of park member development for the WWA in Overland Park, Kan. “Each state needs the ability to set regulations for the unique needs of the operators that are located in their jurisdiction. ... A one-size-fits-all approach to oversight does not allow for the changes and innovations that are a natural part of any industry.”
IAAPA, under more scrutiny because of the other amusement park incidents, held a similar view. “There is no evidence federal oversight or a national agency would improve on the already excellent safety record of the industry,” said Paul Noland, the association’s president/CEO.
He also stated that, despite the trio of incidents happening within days of each other, similar occurrences remain an anomaly. “The chance of being seriously injured on a ride at a U.S. amusement park is 1 in 16 million,” he said.
While some press outlets have reported that the Kansas City police consider the incident a civil matter and have ruled out criminal charges, that is not the case, Morgan said.
The Verrückt tragedy has packed an emotional blow to Kansas City, which was excited when Schlitterbahn first came there, Morgan added. “It’s very emotional for our community because we’ve had a lot of tragic incidents happening,” he said. “We have our fair share of crime, but usually we don’t get hit with this many negative things happening.”
While Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City has reopened, Verrückt will remain closed for the rest of the season, officials said.