April 13, 2006

Second Death in Less Than a Year on Disney Ride

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida -- A 49-year-old German woman died after riding a rocket simulator at Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park in Florida, the second person to die in less than a year after riding on Mission: SPACE, state officials said on Thursday.

State regulators said Disney had told them the woman, who died Wednesday evening, may have had some prior health problems including high blood pressure and chronic headaches. Disney did not identify the woman, and authorities did not say the cause of death.

Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Disney closed the ride for an inspection overnight after the woman was taken to the hospital. The attraction uses spinning centrifugal force to create the sensation of a rocket launch.

"They didn't see anything out of the ordinary," McElroy said. "Disney was satisfied that it was behaving normally."

Mission: SPACE reopened to the public on Thursday morning, Disney said in a statement.

In June 2005, 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye of Pennsylvania died after riding Mission: SPACE with his mother and losing consciousness.

An autopsy by a Florida Medical Examiner's Office determined that Bamuwamye had an undiagnosed heart defect which put him at risk of sudden death under stress.

Mission: SPACE was inspected by Disney after Bamuwamye's ride, found to have no mechanical problems and also reopened the following morning.

Disney's most technologically advanced attraction, the ride takes visitors on a simulated trip to Mars. After lifting off, riders experience a momentary feeling of weightlessness.

While Disney states that Mission: SPACE's G-forces are less than a typical roller coaster, many thrill ride fans say they feel the effects considerably longer than the momentary bursts on a roller coaster.

Multiple warning signs and prerecorded audio tracks at the Mission: SPACE entrance and in the queue address pregnancy, heart conditions, motion sickness, and back and neck problems.

A Disney fan-administered Web site cautions that enough riders over 55 years old have complained of chest pain or nausea to become a concern, although the site notes that most of these guests had preexisting conditions that are specifically mentioned in the posted warning signs.