One dead, 10 hurt as Disney roller-coaster comes off rails

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A roller-coaster came off the rails at southern California's Disneyland theme park, killing one man and injuring 10 other people, including a nine-year-old child.

The accident happened on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, ironically a recreation of a runaway mine train, that goes through a faux desert landscape. Tokyo Disneyland immediately suspended its version of the ride and began safety checks. Disneyland Resort Paris, which also has the ride, declined to comment. There is a version of it at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

The crash occurred in Anaheim on Friday. Open-top carriages full of passengers were being pulled uphill by a red locomotive. As the train entered a tunnel, the carriages became detached from the train and the locomotive derailed. Some passengers were able to run from the scene and call for help, but others were trapped for up to an hour. Marcello Torres, 22, seated in the first passenger car, was found dead at the scene by emergency workers. Another man of the same age, Vicente Gutierrez, of Wilmington, California, was seriously injured.

A Los Angeles television station, KCAL 9, said the injured riders ranged in age from nine to 47. Four male and four female passengers were taken to hospital. The cause of the accident was not immediately apparent.

Police Sergeant Rick Martinez told reporters at the scene: "At this point we don't believe sabotage was involved, but we are going to look at everything."

The Thunder Mountain ride normally lasts just over three minutes, and travels at an average speed of 23mph. It would not feature on anyone's list of hair-raising roller-coasters. Its carriages can carry up to 32 people, but it is not known precisely how many were on the ride at the time of the accident.

Frontierland, the area of the theme park where the ride is located, was cordoned off yesterday. It will remain closed until the cause of the accident has been established, and full safety checks have been carried out.

Disneyland, whose parent company is the largest operator of theme parks in the world, had an estimated 12.7 million visitors in 2002. Last year a new executive was named to oversee safety and released a report on efforts to improve safety at the parks, prompted by public concerns in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

Mr Torres' death is the 10th fatality at the park since it opened in 1955. Past accidents at Disney parks include the apparent drowning at Disney World in Florida in April 2002 of a man who reportedly jumped out of a tower and fell into a lagoon, and the 1998 death of a 33-year-old man at Disneyland who was struck by a metal cleat at a dock at the Columbia ship attraction.

Three years ago, a four-year-old boy was critically injured after being trapped underneath a car in the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin at Disneyland; and the same year a Utah couple sued Disneyland, saying they had been injured on the Space Mountain roller-coaster when their car derailed during an emergency stop.