We asked people in the queue for the Smiler how terrified they were
Surprisingly, most people were smiling
Yesterday, Vicky Pugh appeared on ITV News berating Alton Towers theme park for reopening the Smiler, the rollercoaster that crashed in June last year, leaving five victims seriously injured, and Vicky without a leg. It was soon revealed after the crash that the accident had occurred due to “human error”, after a member of staff allegedly misunderstood a shutdown message. Nine months on and the £18 million ride has been reopened to the public with improved safety measures, despite the victims’ serious concerns.
We went along to Alton Towers today, and despite everything, the Smiler was by far the most popular ride in the park, with double the waiting time of the second most popular ride, Rita. As we waited nervously to get on the Smiler ourselves, there was an uncomfortable atmosphere that enveloped the winding crowd. Today, the tannoy’s mock-sinister laughs and shrieks had taken on an entirely different character, but how fearful were the people in the queue?
Alex Arnell, 23, animator
“Did it reopen today? I was a bit hesitant going at the front, but because I’ve been on it before I wasn’t scared at all. If it was a fault with the machine, I think maybe they should have closed it down for good, but because it was a human error, it’s not really the machines fault.”
Claire Gordon, 40, drama teacher
“Oh my god, it was amazing! I respect the fact that it was a real trauma for everyone that was involved with the accident, but life goes on… accidents happen. I don’t think the park should be penalised long-term, they’ve done what they can, they’ve been really vigilant today and there’s lots of people enjoying themselves.”
Matthew Lyndsay, 25, train driver
Matthew was part of a large group of rollercoaster enthusiasts, several of whom were wearing Smiler branded jackets and hoodies (which are still on sale for £32) as today marked a special day for their community. He told us: “It’s one of my favourite rollercoasters in the world, I was incredibly shocked when I found out about what happened. I just felt that it was like closure today, knowing that the ride was reopened and everything was back to normal. I knew that ultimately they’d find out what happened and take the appropriate actions.”
Hang Lu, 25, bio-nanotechnology PhD student at the University of Southampton
“I’ve been waiting for this for quite a long time. I wasn’t worried that something might go wrong again, I’m quite lucky.”
Becky Watts, 38, call centre operator
“You can get run over can’t you? You can get run over all the time. This is gonna be one of the safest rides here now isn’t it?”
Luke Green, 26, college lecturer
“This is gonna be the safest time to try the ride. I think they were right to close it, because they needed to do all sorts of checks and inspections as it was a very serious matter, given the circumstances and repercussions. But now that the relevant safety checks have been done and people have been going on it, there hasn’t been any problems, it’s alright. I wouldn’t feel any more scared about going on it than any other ride. There’s an element of danger no matter what you do, you can step out into the street and something could happen…”
Bandhita Saibandith, 26, PhD student
“I actually only found out about what happened after I got off the ride. I was shocked when I found out. I would’ve gone on it if I’d known before though. They don’t want this kind of thing to happen again and I think they’ve taken the necessary precautions.”
Hanna Wakeford, 22, actor and Claire Deacon, 26, actor
“I would never consider going on it. Yeah, I’m not losing a leg. As much as I know they’ve probably upped security, shit can still happen. The girls we were with who went on it said there was a strange atmosphere. I don’t think they should put two cars on at the same time, they’re so close to each other! They should’ve closed it for good. We’ve seen a lot of people wearing Smiler tops and we felt that was a little bit inappropriate because she lost her leg and it’s affected her life.”
Peter Morrell, 31, account manager
“Yeah I’ve been on it before and had no issues. People crash on motorways and they don’t close those forever. It’s a sentiment of life, at some point something will crash, you know? It’s unfortunate, it’s horrible that it happened to them, but it’s one of those things. If you closed something every time an accident happened we wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
John Burton, 24, architecture student at Birmingham City University
“I wasn’t scared in the slightest, because I know it’s one hundred percent safe, I know how rollercoasters work, it was human error. I don’t think they should have closed the ride down indefinitely, its like banning people from driving on the motorways at christmas. I travel the world going on different rollercoasters, no matter where.
Us, Nottingham students
We concluded that out of choice this seemed like a bizarre concept, even tempting fate, going on a rollercoaster that had so recently maimed several of its riders. The final entrance was un-lit and guests are kept in near pitch darkness before entering the cars. Needless to say the tension by the time we reached the coaster itself was palpable, we found ourselves much more anxious, scared even than we had been for any other rollercoaster.
The ride itself was standard. Exhilarating drops and twists followed heart-stopping climbs into the air. Despite the excitement, we came off wondering how anyone could feel comfortable taking a ride on the Smiler despite its history. It didn’t feel dangerous, it just felt wrong.