Three taken to hospital after roller coaster accident at Alton Towers

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Three people were taken to hospital after an accident on a roller coaster at Alton Towers theme park yesterday.

A total of 29 people were injured when the front carriage of the Runaway Mine Train roller coaster - described as a "speeding locomotive that's out of control" - separated, then rolled into the back end of the train.

Two women in their late 30s were airlifted to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, suffering possible whiplash, spinal and abdominal injuries. A third woman attended the same hospital for a check-up. A fourth casualty visited a minor injuries unit in Leek.

An investigation into the accident, which happened at 11am, is being conducted by park managers and the Health and Safety Executive.

A spokeswoman for the Staffordshire theme park said that 46 people were on the ride, which was stopped immediately. Everyone was evacuated and the ride was cleared within 40 minutes. She said: "A number of guests are being cared for on site with cuts, bruises and minor injuries."

The £3m Runaway Mine Train opened in 1992 and is one of the park's older attractions. Its description on the park's website invites thrill-seekers to "rattle along rickety rails and mine shafts, past trees and rivers, on a speeding locomotive that's out of control - and getting faster every second".

Last year, a 12-year-old girl fractured her wrists while travelling the Rita, Queen of Speed ride. But the Health and Safety Executive found no fault.

The Runaway Mine Train and the water rapids ride will be closed during the investigation. The park remains open.