Saturday 24 September 2016

Young woman seriously injured in Alton Towers rollercoaster crash has leg amputated

Published 08/06/2015 | 11:54

A young woman who was seriously injured in the Alton Towers rollercoaster crash has had her left leg amputated above the knee, the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust has confirmed.

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Leah Washington was one of four people that were seriously injured in the crash.

Alton Towers, which was closed since the incident last Tuesday, has since reopened to the public.

The group said it was "deeply saddened" by news that rollercoaster crash victim Leah has had her left leg amputated above the knee, adding that it will "provide full support to all of those involved now, and throughout their recovery and rehabilitation".

The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, as sixteen people have been involved in a collision between two carriages at Alton Towers amusement park's Smiler attraction. Fabio De Paola/PA Wire
The Smiler ride at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire, as sixteen people have been involved in a collision between two carriages at Alton Towers amusement park's Smiler attraction. Fabio De Paola/PA Wire
Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @MfcJordan, of Alton Towers amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster, showing an injured passenger (centre right) after four people were seriously injured in a collision between two carriages. @MfcJordan/PA Wire

Chief executive of the park's owner, Merlin Entertainments, insisted it was committed to ensuring people can visit again "with confidence".

Sixteen people were injured on The Smiler ride when the carriage they were in collided with another which had come to a halt on the track.

One man who was on the ride when it crashed described the moment he "held on for dear life" as the carriages collided, before he saw blood dripping from an injured woman in front of him.

The man, who gave his name only as Oli, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, told Heart North West radio station: "As we came round the corner we probably only had a second or two to see it.

Handout photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @OFFICIALWMAS of the scene at Alton Towers as four teenagers have suffered serious leg injuries in a collision between two carriages on the amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster. West Midlands Ambulance Service/PA Wire
Handout photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @OFFICIALWMAS of the scene at Alton Towers as four teenagers have suffered serious leg injuries in a collision between two carriages on the amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster. West Midlands Ambulance Service/PA Wire

"Obviously we all just screamed and held on for dear life as we hit the back of it. We moved forwards and backwards with the force until we came to a stop at 45 degrees.

"It was a severe jolt. The people in front where they hit it were obviously in quite a lot of pain so they were screaming. A lot of people were coming to the side of the barrier and the people in front were screaming 'Get some help, get some help'.

Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @_ben_jamming of Alton Towers amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster after four people were seriously injured in a collision between two carriages. @_ben_jamming/PA Wire
Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @_ben_jamming of Alton Towers amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster after four people were seriously injured in a collision between two carriages. @_ben_jamming/PA Wire

"There was a lot of blood coming from the carriage in front. It was dripping all over the floor. There was quite a lot of blood coming from them.

"I thought (it was) the guy in front of me. I saw at some point he had cut his face, but it was actually coming from the girl next to him who had the severely damaged leg."

Oli, who bought a fast-track ticket to go on The Smiler after taking his children to CBeebies Land with his wife, said the ride had stopped running for about half an hour before the crash due to a "technical issue".

"You just kind of assume that it's going to be OK," he added. "You think they wouldn't send anybody on it unless they were happy it was running."

The X-Sector of Alton Towers - which houses The Smiler - will remain closed until further notice to allow the Health and Safety Executive access to the ride for investigations.

The Spinball ride will also be closed at the Staffordshire theme park until enhanced safety protocols have been implemented, but Merlin Entertainments said this would take slightly longer than it had hoped due to the design of the ride.

Two rides at other Merlin Entertainments parks, Thorpe Park, and Chessington World of Adventures - both in Surrey - will also remain closed until new safety protocols can be implemented. But these are expected to reopen soon.

At Alton Towers, one group of self-confessed "adrenalin junkies" have not been put off by the closure of The Smiler and the X Sector.

Paddy O'Shaughnessy, Tanya Wolff, Gareth Mcgahan and Christine Hopkin, from Nottingham, had all taken a day off work to spend time at the park.

"We were gutted when they first closed it. It's a shame what happened, but it hasn't put us off," said Mr O'Shaughnessy.

Between them the group have racked up dozens of visits over the years, with Mr O'Shaughnessy's first trip on Nemesis in the year the ride opened in 1994.

"We're thrill-seekers, so it wouldn't put us off," he said.

"We planned to come the day the accident happened, and my mate said 'You watch, they'll close it now, you won't be able to go', and they did. But we're so happy it's open."

Asked which ride they were heading for first, the group conferred before deciding on Nemesis, Ms Wolff adding: "We'll go on everything. Twice."

Behind them at the main gate, there was a steady flow of customers coming off the monorail train, which brings people in from the site's vast car parks, before queuing up to pay.

Ms Hopkin said she had confidence in the park's safety, adding: "We wanted to go on The Smiler. I would go on if it was open, I just wouldn't sit on the front."

While talking to a reporter, she then turned to a staff member and asked "Will it ever open again?"

The man replied: "We need to wait for the investigation first."

Merlin is thought to have racked up losses of around £500,000 a day since the incident and it has also faced accusations that staff dithered for 10 minutes before making the first 999 call, despite screams of distress from bloodied passengers on board The Smiler.

Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said the incident was a "terrible event" for everyone involved.

He added: "We are very aware of the impact it will have on those involved and we are doing all we can to provide our support to those injured and their families."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has removed the carriages involved in the crash and took them to the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton for further analysis.

The most seriously injured have been named as Daniel Thorpe, a 27-year-old hotel assistant manager from Buxton in Derbyshire, Vicky Balch, 20, from Leyland in Lancashire, textile design student Joe Pugh, 18, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, and his girlfriend, Leah Washington, 17.

Ms Balch suffered potentially life changing injuries in the crash, and is expected to make a "substantial claim for damages" to support her recovery.

Nina Lancaster and Daniella Dobson had taken their 15-year-old daughters along because they thought it "would be the safest day".

Mrs Lancaster said they booked the trip about a month ago while their children had a day off school in Leeds, and were determined to go.

She said the girls "were really excited" when they found out that it would open.

Mrs Dobson said she was more cautious about going, but took the view safety precautions would be at their highest.

"We didn't want to let the children down," she added.

Asked what rides they would be heading to first, Mrs Lancaster said she did not know but on the journey down told daughter Sophie and Daniella's daughter Jo "they can't go on the front or the back".

However, the two pupils, who attend The Grammar School at Leeds, took a different view saying they did not mind.

Mrs Lancaster said: "They'll probably pick the highest, tallest, fastest rides they can."

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