Blaze at German roller coaster injures 54

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The Independent Online

A fire raged through a roller coaster at one of Europe's largest amusement parks yesterday, injuring at least 54 people and forcing 150 passengers to scramble down 60-foot (18-metre) ladders to escape.

A fire raged through a roller coaster at one of Europe's largest amusement parks yesterday, injuring at least 54 people and forcing 150 passengers to scramble down 60-foot (18-metre) ladders to escape.

Panic broke out among some of the 20,000 May Day visitors at Phantasialand park, near Cologne in western Germany, as burning debris rained down.

"We were running. We didn't know if the huge burning walls would fall on us," said Esther Weimann, a 21-year-old pregnant woman who climbed over an 8-foot (2.4-metre) wall to get out. "It was mass panic." Several dozen other visitors tore down a fence to escape.

"We just barely avoided a catastrophe," the Cologne police director, Winrich Granitzka, said.

It took more than two hours and 600 firefighters to extinguish the fire that broke out on the 20-year-old Grand Canyon roller coaster, which is part of the park's Western theme section. The blaze also engulfed a nearby building.

Christina Jutz, 23, of Bitburg, said she started running when she saw the fire. "You run for your life," she said. "I'm happy that I had a guardian angel."

Police said the injured were believed to be mostly roller-coaster passengers who suffered smoke inhalation.

The park's founder, Gottlieb Loeffelhardt, said the likely cause was a cable fire in one of the cars, which, in its turn, would have caused the roller coaster's emergency brakes to activate, forcing the passengers to flee down ladders.

After the blaze was extinguished, about 10 burned-out cars could be seen on the tracks, raising fears ­ later ruled out ­ that there could be victims inside.

The cables on the roller coaster were replaced last year, Mr Loeffelhardt said.

The cost of the fire was estimated at up to £9.5m. The park, which drew about 2.3 million visitors in 1999, was closed until further notice.

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