35 Students Plunged Three Stories In Waterslide Structural Collapse
The engineering firm hired to design and build the Caribbean Splash Water Park in Barbados was asked by the City of Concord, California, for a letter of indemnification two years before the structural collapse of a “Whitewater West Industries Ltd.” waterslide killed a 17 year-old girl and seriously injured 34 of her classmates.
In a San Jose Mercury News article published shortly after the June 2, 1997 tragedy, the spokesperson for Whitewater West Industries Ltd., Andrew Mowett, replied “No Comment” when asked about the letter of indemnification and the fatal collapse.
Engineer Raised Alarm 2 Years Earlier – Was Ignored, Then Fired!
The newspaper reported highly unusual circumstances about the construction and opening of the waterpark two years earlier. A City of Concord engineer who had complained about structural weakness in the waterslide design was fired when he continued to submit reports on his findings. Engineer Nick Theophanous had written about the poor stability and design of various structures throughout the waterpark – not just the deadly waterslide – but approvals were given anyway. He was overruled and then fired.
Charges Of Political Pressure To “Push The Project Through Quickly”
In a June 14, 1997 Times article, city official Jack Aiello charged that political pressure had been brought to bear to “push the project through quickly”.
Whitewater West Industries Ltd. later settled a lawsuit brought by family of the dead girl…
(Saturday, May 13, 2000) – Attorneys for the family of 17-year-old Quimby Ghilotti, who was killed in the 1997 Banzai Pipeline water slide collapse at WaterWorld USA theme park in Concord, California, have reached a $1.7 million settlement with Premier Parks, the park’s parent company; Whitewater West Industries, the ride’s designer and manufacturer; and the Napa Unified School District. (Link here)
Public Hearings Exposed Industry Problems, Lack of Standards
The waterpark and waterslide designers found that the slide had been overloaded (4X designed load) by a large number of students who had deliberately “clogged” the slide by stopping part way down. Some other engineers and manufacturers claimed that the failure should not have happened regardless of the circumstances.
During the post-accident rebuilding of the waterslide, modifications were done to give additional strength – but the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Report below indicates that the City of Concord did not allow the accident investigator to copy the Whitewater West Industries Ltd. engineering drawings due to “copyright” issues. (!)
A public enquiry and news articles spoke to the lack of standards for waterpark design, construction, operation, inspection and safety.
Sources For This Article
US Consumer Product Safety Commission Report 970603CWE5001 Waterslide Collapse
FOI Request S712143
Adobe PDF File: Freedom Of Information Request – Part 1
Adobe PDF File: Freedom Of Information Request – Part 2