You're either a rollercoaster person, or you're not. I thought I was one, once, until I rode something called "X" at Magic Mountain that spit fire at me and jerked me around so violently, I actually thought I might not make it. It took a photo at the most terrifying part, and the look on my face is, quite simply, the look of a person who thinks they are about to die.
I bring all this up as an introduction to a couple of rollercoaster-themed stories in the news. One is a relatively happy (I guess?) story, about a new ride called Takabisha, unveiled this weekend at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park at the base of Japan's Mount Fuji. Takabisha is their 14th Guinness world record-breaking ride, and its main attraction is a 100-foot, 102-degree drop. You can experience the entire, stomach-heaving journey in the embedded video.
The second story is a very sad story. U.S. Army Sgt. James Hackemer, a double-amputee Iraq war veteran, fell out of a rollercoaster at Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort, just east of Buffalo, on Friday. The Ride of Steel is 208 feet tall and one of the tallest coasters east of the Mississippi River, according to the park's website.
The accident is reviving debate about whether or not theme parks should be placed under federal regulatory oversight. Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey, a longtime advocate for such measures, told Reuters:
"While the cause of the accident that claimed the life of Sgt. Hackemer is still unknown, one thing is crystal clear: Hypercoasters that hurtle riders at speeds exceeding 70 miles per hour along 200-foot drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight."
Hypercoasters! They even have a name. (What about "deathcoasters?" X was definitely a deathcoaster.) The parks counter that accidents are extremely rare — 1 in 9 million rides — and federal involvement would do nothing to avoid those freak accidents you read about every summer.
UPDATE: A commenter points out yet another rollercoaster mishap on Sunday at Six Flags Over Texas. After hearing "a troubling noise," the operator of The Texas Giant stopped the coaster just short of its first drop (14 stories, 79-degrees). Riders had to sit in 100-degree temperatures for 30 minutes as the noise was investigated. Not even raising their hands and going "whee" as they climbed down the stairs to safety made it quite the thrilling experience they were hoping for. [Reuters, Daily Mail, video via Daily What]