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35 hurt on Kennywood coaster

Friday, July 09, 1999

By Brenden Sager, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

As many as 35 people were injured at Kennywood Park last night when a train on the world-famous Thunderbolt struck the rear of another train that was being loaded with passengers.

A teen-ager awaits transport from inside Kennywood to an area hospital after he was injured on the Thunderbolt. (John Heller, Post-Gazette) 

None of the injuries was described as serious, but 20 people were taken by ambulance to hospitals to be treated for whiplash, bruises or small cuts, said Pete McAneny, the park's general manager.

The accident happened shortly after 9 p.m. as one 24-passenger train pulled into the roller coaster station and rammed into a stationary train that was being loaded with passengers, park officials said. Some people who were injured had been standing or just stepping into the stopped car at the time, witnesses said.

Medical and security personnel from the park responded and began helping riders into wheelchairs and stretchers as ambulances began arriving from West Mifflin and neighboring towns. Most people in the park became aware that something had gone wrong only when they saw the patients being taken toward a line of ambulances just off Kennywood Boulevard.

The injured were transported to UPMC Braddock, UPMC Presbyterian, Children's, Mercy and Jefferson hospitals. Hospital officials said most people were complaining of neck and abdominal pain.

McAneny said the Thunderbolt would be closed indefinitely pending an investigation by the park and the state Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Ride and Measurement Standards.

The Thunderbolt is normally operated by six attendants. The ride has an automatic braking system and a manual braking system, both of which are used to bring the four-car trains to a safe stop.

McAneny said the investigation would focus on the ride's braking system. "It was supposed to stop and didn't stop."

"We went around the bend but didn't hit the brakes, and then we just hit into the other car," said David Weller, 12, a Thunderbolt passenger who was not hurt. "Everyone just jumped out ... they threw up the bars and started panicking."

A woman from Carrick who identified herself as Kim was about to make a videotape of the wooden roller coaster, but didn't have her camera on when the accident happened.

"I looked up and I heard something snap," she said. "I saw it slam into the car in front of it."

She said she saw one rider thrown forward in his seat and hit his face on a restraining bar.

In the aftermath of the crash, patrons rushed to the scene trying to find out what had happened and to find out if anyone they knew had been injured.

Debbie and Karl Cipriani of New Stanton said they went over to the Thunderbolt because they were worried that their two daughters might have been on the ride. The couple finally found them 40 minutes later at a spot where they had previously agreed to rendezvous.

Yesterday was WTAE Day at Kennywood. Channel 4 news anchor Scott Baker said two daughters of the station's news editor were aboard the train that was struck, as was a WTAE intern. None was seriously hurt, Baker said.

The Thunderbolt was originally named the Pippin, a wooden roller coaster that was built in 1924. It was rebuilt as the Thunderbolt in 1968 by Kennywood engineer Andy Vettel.

The Thunderbolt goes about 55 mph and its biggest dip is 90 feet.

In 1974, the Thunderbolt, with its sudden drops and careening curves, was named the top United States roller coaster in an article in The New York Times, sparking a roller-coaster revival that continues today.

KDKA-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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