Caribbean Splash Designers On A Bad Day – 1 Dead, 34 Injured


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

Whitewater West Industries Website


Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism, Business, Environment, Island Life, Offshore Investments, Politics & Corruption, Traveling and Tourism

20 responses to “Caribbean Splash Designers On A Bad Day – 1 Dead, 34 Injured

  1. John

    You have got to be kidding!!

    I think we have or are getting a building code, but doubt there will be anything in it about water parks.

    The part about not copying drawings sounds extremely familiar!!

    Mr. PM, what in heavens name is going on here? Please, for heavens sake take note of the copying issue.

    Something is not right here.

  2. Now you can see why Mia wants to censor Blogs. This is the first I am hearing about this accident.

    This is how ordinary citizens will have a voice and the Internet and blogging can protect Democracy somewhat.

    I also posted a link to an accident that occured at a waterpark in Quebec, Canada and that was to show that nothing is 100% safe.

    That is why a Waterpark should not be built near an ecologicaly sensitive area.
    Accidents happen.

  3. missinghome

    They said at the meeting that these people were the experts. Same man Andrew Mowatt was at the meeting. Is the same man yes?

  4. West Side Davie

    Mowatt was at the head table at the waterpark meeting.

    We don’t have to worry about “Political Pressure” here in Barbados an people not doing the proper inspections here in Barbados.


  5. Crusty

    There is a new building code under development and it
    is likely to contain similar details to the existing 1993
    edition of the Barbados National Building Code which
    has at least two sections that are relevant:

    2.7 Structural Requirements – Structural Steel

    6.1 Minor Structures and Components – Swimming Pools

    Both sections require that a registered engineer be
    responsible for the design of features as would be
    installed in a public access water park.

    Regrettably the existing code has nothing to say about
    environmental impact and nothing measurable to say
    about noise and light affecting neighbouring properties.

    It is likely the same Andrew Mowatt was the Whitewater
    West representative at the town hall meeting. My notes
    of the meeting include a similar sounding name and I
    saw no written info giving the actual names of presenters.

  6. Vob Call in program Radio Moderator Tony Marshall just mention This article and the Barbados free press in a conversatin with Mr. Anti-America.

    This site will be a bitter sweet experience for Mr. Anti-America who appears to me to be a Chavez, Castro apologist. 😀

  7. BFP

    Hi Crusty

    There are several hundred pages in the two reports and one of the big big issues is that no standards exist for these parks – except as the parks put upon themselves.

    And even where certain standards exist, there are no inspections or processes in place to make sure that they are followed.

    Read the full report and you will see that in the Napa Whitewater West Industries park there were railings on the stairs that did not meet building code standards.. etc etc etc.

    How is Barbados supposed to handle all this when the USA with thousands of waterparks cannot develop or implement proper standards and procedures?

  8. passin thru

    I am part way through reading the freedom of information request downloaded from the links at the end of this article.

    Wow. Poor girl. Coroner report is there and all the newspaper clippngs from the collapse. The story about the engineer’s warning is stunning. Very scary.

    These Whitewater people were told something was wrong and they just let it happen according to the newspapers.

    Interesting that this Mowatt fellow is still the same person. Has the Whitewater West company changed? Are they more careful now? How do we know?

    And what about the political interference with the City engineers who just wanted a safe park but were fired?

    Very scary for Barbados.

  9. Crusty

    BFP Says:
    July 21st, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    “How is Barbados supposed to handle all this when the USA with thousands of waterparks cannot develop or implement proper standards and procedures?”


    Standards are only as good as their enforcement.
    And that falls upon us – on the ground in Barbados (maybe literally).

    Grass roots activism has stopped and/or modified development
    many times in the past. I expect and hope the same will apply in
    this case too.

    It is sometimes difficult to anticipate how stupidly people can behave.
    Intentionally overstressing a structure to 4x its design limits is up
    there with rushing the entrance to a football stadium, or rhythmic dancing on a suspended walkway causing its collapse, or flying a
    plane into the World Trade Centre with a full load of fuel when the
    building was designed only for impact by an empty aircraft.

  10. In the real world, people are always trying to cut cost. There is even an acceptance that accidents will happen. That is why we have Insurance policies.

    However, when dealing with the environment, you can’t easily replace it like a Car or truck after an accident.

    I would not like to see a single life lost but the powers that be will have statistics to prove that fewer accidents happen in a waterpark than on the highway.

    One thing I know is that if there is a substantial chemical spill that gets into Graeme hall swamp, the damage will be horrendous.

    Why take that chance?

  11. Crusty

    Hants Says:
    July 21st, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    1. In the real world, people are always trying to cut cost. There is even an acceptance that accidents will happen. That is why we have Insurance policies.

    2. However, when dealing with the environment, you can’t easily replace it like a Car or truck after an accident.

    3. I would not like to see a single life lost but the powers that be will have statistics to prove that fewer accidents happen in a waterpark than on the highway.

    4. One thing I know is that if there is a substantial chemical spill that gets into Graeme hall swamp, the damage will be horrendous.

    5. Why take that chance?


    Response to items above from a knowledgeable but non-expert:

    1. The whole field of Value Engineering is all about balancing
    cost and consequences. We choose a level of risk of failure
    and build or use accordingly. We use gas stoves even though
    there is a risk of explosion. And automobiles are notoriously
    dangerous but we consider the level of risk to be acceptable.

    2. Actually, you can replace/reverse consequences of such
    events. Most but certainly not all environmental catastrophes are
    reversed by human action or mother nature. It may take a long
    time. Clear cutting forestry is one example where the entire
    character of the forest changes and might be considered
    irreversible. Global warming might also be an example – the
    planet Venus could be considered such a case.

    3. Yup, they do. Maybe we should ban motor vehicles first?

    4. The word “chemical” has become loaded emotionally. The
    common chlorine based disinfectants used in swimming pools
    are the most apparent “chemical” in this situation. The
    Barbados Water Authority uses them in treating the fresh
    water we drink. Such usage has been common practice for
    a very long time and is well understood by all practitioners.

    The second “chemical” of concern in this situation is the brine
    output from the likely desalination plant. Salt/sea water is a mix
    of fresh water and a small amount of various salts – sodium
    chloride and potassium chloride being the common ones.
    Desalinators work by extracting some of the fresh water (h2o)
    and leaving a more concentrated salt solution as the residue.

    Now, water-based plants and animals evolved to thrive in a
    limited range of salt concentration. They usually die when the salt
    concentration is above or below that range.

    Graeme Hall Swamp is reported to have two different water
    environments – one fresh water, the other brackish. Brackish
    is another word for salt concentration higher than that of fresh
    but less than that of sea water.

    Mangroves thrive in brackish water, but might not do so well in
    fresh or sea water. In regions of high tidal flows the mangrove
    can experience all three conditions on a daily basis. That is not
    the case in Graeme Hall Swamp which is flushed by a regulated
    outflow with a sluice gate and is subject to rain water flooding
    and solar evaporation.

    A “chemical” spill of higher than usual chlorine disinfectant
    concentration or of excess brine outflow would not have the
    same effect as an oil tanker going aground on the reef and
    releasing bunker C fuel. The damage would be much less and
    of a much shorter duration – only until the chlorine was used up
    by binding to organic matter or the brine diluted back down to
    near sea water concentration.

    By the way, fresh water is a “chemical” too.

    5. Society takes chances all the time. But the choice should be
    made by informed decision-makers representing ALL the opinions
    of the people affected. That includes nature lovers as well as
    property developers. There are other locations on the island that
    could be more suitable for a water park. The up-front cost of
    development might be higher if another location is chosen. If it is
    too high for the perceived risk of commercial success (or failure)
    then the developer will choose not to invest or do so elsewhere.

    Hope that helps.

  12. Very well articulated Crusty. However ny opinion remains the same. No waterpark in Graeme Hall.

    Find another location.

  13. Crusty

    Find another location.


    We agree on that point.

  14. BFP

    Hey Crusty… you are pretty good. Thanks for contributing.

    Ya can’t do this with a newspaper, folks!

  15. Trueblue

    BFP: I saw article in the Advocate on Saturday by David Thompson of the DLP saying the DLP is not in favour of the project in Greame Hall. I do not know why the Nation didn’t publish it but I think it important enough for you to flag because they should be kept to their word on this.

    I liked his comment that Barbados is not just an economy but it is a society. That’s the problem with us right now. The government is only interested in economic boasting and fancy projects. It is the social and morality issues that are going to be our undoing.

  16. John

    I agree Trueblue.

    It is sad that we have descended to this level, and even sadder that our leaders (not necessarily only in Government) have not even noticed.

  17. Anonymous

    We have to keep an eye on the Nation News, because of their little problem with Clico.

    Maybe they might punish David Thompson because of his association with Clico.

    It is a little unusual for the Advocate to publish a positive statement from Thompson while The Nation does not.

  18. Hants

    The above was written by me. forget to put my name. Sorry BFP

  19. willa

    Please remember she was a person and we loved her.

  20. Ordinary Person

    hello willa,

    it is good to remember a friend when others have forgotten. nobody remmber my friend from 30 years ago. His parents dead. Wife long since remarried. Friends moved on. I remember Doug. He always drove a Volvo sports car. He was a good man.