Four people have been seriously injured in a crash on a ride at Alton Towers, which left 16 passengers stranded on-board for four-and-a-half hours.
Two males aged 27 and 18 and two females aged 19 and 17 suffered serious leg injuries when two carriages collided on the 50mph Smiler ride.
A spokesperson for Alton Towers said there were 16 people involved in the incident at around 2:09pm "on a low section of the track", which occurred between a full carriage and one that was empty. All guests on board the ride have now been freed, following an evacuation that lasted until 6:35pm, an Alton Towers spokeswoman said.
Steve Wheaton, Assistant Chief Ambulance officer for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said the four teenagers suffered "significant lower limb injuries and were trapped in the carriage for quite some time." Two have now been taken to Royal Stoke University Hospital, while the remaining pair were sent to University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire as trauma centres.
He added: "Of the other 12 patients we now believe they will be walking wounded patients and the delay has just been in extricating them from the car."
A spokesman for West Midlands Ambulance Service earlier told The Independent that all four were breathing and conscious.
A statement from the service said that a platform was build up to the ride "in order for emergency services to reach the occupants on the ride who are approximately 25 feet up in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees."
The park will remain closed on Wednesday, while an investigation is carried out into the incident, according to an Alton Towers spokeswoman.
A witness on the scene visiting the theme park, Danny Simm, said there was "blood everywhere".
Mr Simm told The Independent: "A few people appeared to be injured but one man looked serious. Out of respect I didn't take any photographs.
"An air ambulance arrived after 25 minutes. It wasn't handled well by Alton Towers staff."
Mr Simm said park guests remained trapped on the ride. An ambulance service spokeswoman said: "Staff and medics are working quickly with resort staff to gain access to the seriously injured."
Lucy Farrugia, another visitor, said the ride had already broken down earlier in the day. She said: "Smiler broke down when I was on it this morning and now it's crashed. Hope everyone on it is OK, saw the air ambulance arrive."
Witness Ben Richardson, who had also been on the ride earlier in the day, told BBC News the empty carriage appeared to have been sent round to test the system and was static when the one carrying passengers was sent along the rollercoaster at "around 50mph".
He said: "On the second carriage people were screaming and shouting. Even after it had stopped there was screaming and shouting. Everyone was shocked and no-one knew what to do. It was a bit erratic and there was quickly a large crowd there."
Kirsty Wild said she was in the queue for the ride when the crash happened, and that she was "outraged" by the incident.
"The cars were stationary and someone let them go to collide into empty cars. It's disgusting. I was almost in tears hearing that bang."
The best roller coasters in the world
The best roller coasters in the world
1/9 Millennium Force, USA
Breaking six world records when it was built in 2000, Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Ontario, United States, was briefly the tallest and fastest coaster in the world before Steel Dragon 2000. Millennium Force was also the world’s first Giga Coaster, exceeding 300 feet in height. Website: https://www.cedarpoint.com/ Ticket cost: £29.24
2/9 Formula Rossa, Abu Dhabi
Formula One fans looking to experience the thrill of high-speed manoeuvres need look no further than Formula Rossa, currently the world’s fastest roller coaster, located at Ferrari Word in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Once strapped in to the Ferrari “Rosso Scuderia” F1 inspired cockpit, riders experience an incredible top speed of 150mph, accompanied by acceleration G-Force of 1.7Gs. In order to accelerate to top speed in under five seconds, the ride uses a hydraulic launch system similar to those used to launch jets from aircraft carriers. The ride is so fast riders are required to wear safety goggles. Website: http://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/en-gb.aspx Entry cost: £38.18
3/9 Kingda Ka, USA
Currently the world’s tallest roller coaster, Kingda Ka reaches an impressive height of 456 feet. The roller coaster, found at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, in the United States, used to be the world’s fastest roller coaster, reaching 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, before it lost that record to Formula Rossa in 2010. After a 90° rise to the top, riders then plummet down a 270 ° spiral drop. Website: https://www.sixflags.com/greatadventure Entry cost: £24.54
4/9 Colossos, Germany
The world’s tallest wooden roller coaster, Colossos in Heide Park, Germany, stretches 196 feet into the air. It is constructed using laser cut wood, which means the entire structure snaps together like pieces of Lego. Due to this, the wooden track gives a very smooth ride. Website: http://www.heide-park.de/en/heide-park/ Entry cost: £25.45
5/9 Steel Dragon 2000, Japan
Named after the Chinese New Year in 2000, Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Lad amusement park in Mie Prefecture, Japan, holds the record for the longest roller coaster in the world. Boasting a track length of 8,133 feet, it’s also the sixth fastest coaster in the world. Built in Japan, the coaster needed extra earthquake protection, pushing construction costs over $50 million. Website: http://www.nagashima-onsen.co.jp/index.html/ Ticket cost: £5.74
6/9 Takabisha, Japan
Famous for having a drop angle of 121°, Takabisha, located at the Fuji-Q Highland theme park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, is the steepest roller coaster in the world. The drop angle is known as a “beyond vertical” drop as riders travel back on themselves as they fly over the vertical lift and down the drop. Website: http://www.fujiq.jp/en/ Ticket cost: 5.74
7/9 Top Thrill Dragster, USA
Before being surpassed by Kingda Ka, Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, United States, was the world’s tallest roller coaster. Along with Kingda Ka, Top Thrill Dragster is one of two Strata Coaster types of roller coaster, featuring a drop of 400 feet and a full circuit. Reaching speeds of 120 mph in less than four seconds, Top Thrill Dragster may last only 17 seconds, but it’s sure to thrill. Website: https://www.cedarpoint.com/ Entry cost: £29.18
8/9 Space Mountain, USA
A clear fan favourite, Space Mountain, at Disney World, California, takes visitors on a rocket ride through stars, galaxies and asteroids. The ride is replicated across all five Magic Kingdom-style Disney Parks, so there’s no excuse to miss it. Website: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/ Entry cost: £56.15
This one’s a bit of a cheat because the ride isn’t actually completed yet, but Skyscraper at Orlando’s International Drive is planned to be the world’s tallest roller coaster in the world with a 570 foot tower. Riders will catch an elevator to the top of the structure before following the winding track down at 65 miles per hour. Unfortunately, the ride won’t be completed until 2016, but there’s still plenty of time to get excited.
Alton Towers divisional director Ian Crabbe admitted to reporters following the incident that he was not told that the Smiler reportedly suffered problems earlier in the day.
"This ride has had its issues to start with, which is fairly normal for a big rollercoaster," he told a press briefing at the resort.
"I think it would be unfair to reflect on those issues, which were originally part of the ride when we first opened it and say they are connected to this incident, which I don't believe they are."
The Smiler opened in May 2013 and is billed as the world's first 14 loop rollercoaster.
It holds the official Guinness World Record for most loops in a rollercoaster, according to the Alton Towers website.
In July 2013, the ride was closed after reports that a bolt was seen to have fallen from the track.
And in November that year the rollercoaster was again closed after plastic guard wheels came loose and hit front row riders.
Roller coaster: A chequered history
Even before it was unveiled as “the most impressive addition” to Alton Towers, the £18 million ‘The Smiler’ roller coaster was beset with problems. Delayed due to “unforeseen teething problems” before it opened to the public in June 2013, 16 journalists were left stranded for around 30 minutes during a preview.
Less than a month later the white knuckle ride was forced to close after reports of a bolt falling from the 700 tonne structure. A park spokesperson claimed at the time that at no point was anyone in any danger.
The following November it was again forced to close after some plastic guard wheels came loose and hit riders at the highest point of the ride.
It is the first major accident at the park since 2006, when 30 people were injured after two carriages uncoupled from the track of the Runaway Mine Train roller coaster.
Britain’s worst amusement park tragedy came in 1972 when five children died and 13 adults were injured on an old wooden roller coaster at the Battersea Park Fun Fair.
After a rope carrying one of the cars snapped, an anti-roll mechanism failed and it fell backwards and smashed into a wall.