Saturday 10 December 2016

Alton Towers reopens Smiler rollercoaster nine months after crash left five people with 'life-changing' injuries

Richard Vernalls

Published 19/03/2016 | 13:00

The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, as the theme park has reopened the rollercoaster - nine months after an accident which left five people with serious or life-changing injuries

Alton Towers theme park has reopened the Smiler rollercoaster today - nine months after an accident which left five people with serious or life-changing injuries.

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The Staffordshire theme park said it has sought to "learn every possible lesson" from last June's crash before deciding to restart the £18 million ride.

The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire

Two teenage passengers - Vicky Balch and Leah Washington - underwent leg amputations after their carriage collided with a stationary car on the Smiler ride on June 2.

Three other people were also seriously injured in the crash, which park owner Merlin Entertainments said was due to human error.

Leah Washington, pictured before the accident
Leah Washington, pictured before the accident

Today, thrill-seekers coming off the ride expressed delight at the reopening - but also sympathy with the victims, some of whom were left with dreadful injuries.

Zach Lowe, who calls himself The Smiler Man on social media, ran to be first on the ride, as he has done in each of the previous two years of operation.

He said: "When it closed I was a bit disappointed."

But the 20-year-old, from Leeds, added he had sympathy with the badly injured victims, three of whom have already expressed a wish the ride had never been switched back on.

He said: "I fully respect them and have deep sympathy. It should never have happened. I understand where they are coming from."

Among the victims was Ms Washington's boyfriend, Joe Pugh, who was left with life-changing injuries when both his kneecaps were shattered.

The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, as the theme park has reopened the rollercoaster - nine months after an accident which left five people with serious or life-changing injuries
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, as the theme park has reopened the rollercoaster - nine months after an accident which left five people with serious or life-changing injuries

Speaking to ITV's Good Morning Britain on the eve of the reopening, Mr Pugh, from Barnsley, said he would have preferred the ride to have remained shut.

"I think it would have been a bit unrealistic if we had both said 'I don't think it's ever going to reopen again' because it always was going to, but if people choose to go on it that's up to them," Mr Pugh said.

"Seeing it go round, it's not something that I want to see. I would have preferred for it to be closed."

In a statement this week, Alton Towers said the safety of its guests and employees must always be paramount.

A park spokesman said: "We have sought to learn every possible lesson to help ensure there is no repeat of what happened.

"The park has implemented a number of changes to the way the ride is operated, including enhanced training and additional safety procedures.

"All of the resort's rides and attractions are subject to a thorough annual safety inspection and testing regime through third party ride safety specialists.

"The Smiler has been re-examined and issued with a Document of Compliance as part of this scheme before reopening."

A criminal prosecution of Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd, which manages Alton Towers, was announced by the Health and Safety Executive in February.

The case against the company, alleging breaches of health and safety law, is due to be heard at North Staffordshire Justice Centre next month.

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