At 169 feet tall, Verrückt was the tallest waterslide in the world. Riders plummeted down the nearly vertical 17-story chute—taller than Niagara Falls—at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. German for “insane,” Verrückt was designed to challenge the laws of physics. Visitors flocked to Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kansas, to experience its thrill.
That is, until August 7, 2016, when the raft that 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was riding went airborne and hit a metal pole supporting a safety net, resulting in his decapitation and instant death.
Nathan Truesdell, a filmmaker from nearby Missouri, heard about the devastating incident on the news. “My first thought was that it must have been a freak accident—what a horrible, horrible story,” Truesdell told me. “But once I took a closer look, I started to realize how complicated this story really was, and how this could have happened to anyone who went down that slide.”
The story, it turned out, was one of gross negligence, lax state regulations, and the consequences of hubris. Truesdell’s chilling short documentary The Water Slide, premiering on The Atlantic today, uses news and promotional footage to depict the ill-conceived project and its tragic fallout.