comscore Source: Boy was decapitated on waterslide at Kansas park
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Source: Boy was decapitated on waterslide at Kansas park

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  • This June 2016 photo provided by David Strickland shows Caleb Thomas Schwab, the son of Scott Schwab, a Kansas state lawmaker from Olathe. Caleb died Sunday while riding the Verruckt, a water slide that’s billed as the world’s largest, at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kan. (David Strickland via AP)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. » The 10-year-old boy killed during a ride on the world’s tallest waterslide was decapitated in the accident, a person familiar with the investigation said today. Authorities have yet to explain how it happened.

The person was speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly about the death of Caleb Schwab Sunday on the “Verruckt” raft ride at the Schlitterbahn WaterPark in Kansas City, Kansas.

Two women who are not family members were also in the raft at the time and were treated for facial injuries. The boy’s parents — Republican state Rep. Scott Schwab and his wife, Michele — have not spoken publicly since the death. His funeral is scheduled for Friday.

Verruckt —which in German means “insane” — featured multi-person rafts that make a 168-foot drop at speeds of up to 70 mph, followed by a surge up a hump and a 50-foot descent to a finishing pool. Since the accident, investigators have removed netting that was held in place by supports above the 50-foot section from the hump to the finishing pool.

Riders, who must be at least 54 inches tall, were harnessed with two nylon seatbelt-like straps — one that crossed the rider’s lap, the other stretching diagonally like a car shoulder seatbelt. Each strap was held in place by long Velcro-style straps, not by buckles. Riders would hold ropes inside the raft.

The park reopened today except for a large section that includes the waterslide, although its towering profile greeted visitors when they drove through the entrance. Access to the Verruckt was blocked by a 7-foot-high wooden fence.

On a hot, midweek day, the park was doing a steady business although there were no lines for other rides.

Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Winter Prosapio told The Associated Press outside the park’s entrance today that the company was not discussing Sunday’s tragedy out of respect for the family. She also said that she could not offer immediate perspective about how today’s turnout compared with typical attendance.

“We didn’t know if we’d get five people, 15 people. But this is affirming,” she said.

Pulling a cooler behind her, 42-year-old Sara Craig said she was a bit uneasy bringing her 14-year-old son, Cale, and one of his 13-year-old friends to the park today.

“I feel guilty having fun when a family is hurting so badly,” she said.

She said the family rode Verruckt twice in one day a couple of weeks ago. She remembered a short video they were required to watch, though she didn’t recall that it included any caveats about peril.

Craig said that during her first trip down the ride with her son and one of his friends, her shoulder restraint came off, something she opted not to report to park workers.

“I didn’t think much about it,” she said. “You don’t think you’re gonna die.”

So they rode it again, only to see the restraint on her son’s friend also come loose by the time it was over.

She said the ride’s operators sent them down the slide even though their combined weight was 393 pounds — shy of the 400 weight minimum the park advertises as a requirement. Craig described the ride as “very, very rough,” so much so that “when I got off, my head hurt.”

The water park passed a private inspection in June that included Verruckt, according to a document released by a Kansas state agency. The Kansas Department of Labor provided to The Associated Press today a copy of an insurance company inspector’s June 7 letter saying inspections had been completed.

The letter said all rides met guidelines for being insured with “no disqualifying conditions noted.” But it added: “this survey reflects the conditions observed or found at the time of the inspection only, and does not certify safety or integrity of the rides and attractions, physical operations or management practices at any time in the future.”

The inspector did not immediately reply to email and telephone messages seeking additional details.

Kansas law requires rides to be inspected annually by the parks, and the state randomly audits the records. The last records audit for Schlitterbahn was June 2012.

Ken Martin, a Richmond, Virginia-based amusement park safety consultant, questioned whether the straps were appropriate, suggesting that a more solid restraint system that fits over the body — similar to those used in roller coasters — may have been better.

In early tests, rafts carrying sandbags flew off the slide, prompting engineers to tear down half the ride and reconfigure some angles. A promotional video about building the slide includes footage of two men riding a raft down a half size test model and going slightly airborne as it crests the top of the first big hill.

Jon Rust, a professor of textile engineering at North Carolina State University, said the material used on the straps, commonly called hook and loop, isn’t designed to keep a person in the seat. It also can degrade with use.

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  • Sad way to go. If that ride is comparable to a roller coaster then people need to be harnessed in. Dropping from that height with just velcro isn’t going to cut it. I see a huge lawsuit coming.

    • agree. It seems the straps do not keep a person safely secured. The boy likely was bounded out of the seat and hit the slide at an odd angle. Something like that. God be with the boy and his family. The ride should be shut down until and unless solid harnesses are in place.

      • Some people can learn from or USE facts when they are presented to them and not ignore them just because it makes them uncomfortable. Not part of the “at this point, what difference does it make”…..crowd.

        • Same for traffic accidents? Not enough that someone died but also description of mangled limbs? How about those that survived but unable to perform normal activities because of certain injuries? I suppose you’d want photos too.

        • Saw the show of the making of this water slide and looked at most recent online pictures. When they built the slide they had problems of the raft and the riders going airborne when they crest the 2nd hill. To prevent people from flying out of the track and most likely to a certain death since they are over 50 ft in the air at that point. They changed the angle of the 2nd incline and attached metal support “loops” over the track that provided support for safety netting throughout the whole slide. The kid must have been launched high enough for his head to be above the level of one of these metal support loops and with his high forward momentum, got his head decapitated. The ride uses safety belts however they do not use metal buckles, I guess because they would rust very quickly, and instead used velcro, which after time, will fail. Other unfortunate factors which created this freak situation, which borders on negligence, is this kid was too young, too short and too light under the water slide rules to go on this extreme water slide. There is something like a minimum combined passenger of weight of over 400 pounds and this little kid, with two other women that the kid did not know, probably was way underweight of the 400 pound minimum which resulted in the lightweight kid to be launched so high into the safety net cross bar which acted like a guillotine. It would be sadly ironic that this young kid who had no business to be on this ride had his Kansas State senator father bully his way to violate amusement park rules to allow this kid to ride. The two other women on the raft had minor injuries but did not fly high enough because of their larger mass than the kid to get their head above the safety net cross bar to get decapitated. Because the two women did not know the child, the child was probably in the seat by himself. Had the kid rode on the same seat with a male adult and the adult held on to the kid from behind, the kid probably would not have gone high enough to be decapitated.
          ,br >What is the point of writing all of this? Rules and procedures were NOT followed and series of chain of events of very poor judgement and possibly a local VIP putting pressure to break rules to get their kid on a ride who did NOT meet minimum requirements to insure safety was a recipe for disaster and hopefully parents and amusement park management will learn in the future. This young kid must have really wanted to go on the ride really bad but had all the adults who had say in this matter said to him “NO” he probably would still be alive today.

    • So are you advocating the media not report all the facts available just because it makes some people uncomfortable? Maybe the shock value will spur people to take action and boycott this ride if it ever comes back into service or push for tougher regulations. We have a lot of terrible things happening in this world. Sugarcoating them isn’t going to help solve any problems.

    • Serious is on point. Leave the family with their dignity during this awful time. This is so horrible. And his brother was in the same car. The general public didn’t need to know this. AP writers need counseling. You too, SA! Heartfelt sympathies to the family.

    • Agreed. I don’t think we, the public, needed to know that. Hard enough for the family. They lost a child. And somebody got him on a ride that it sounds like he should not have been allowed on. They don’t need to see the gory details in the newspaper.

    • In addition to the straps, ther is another flaw in the design. These boats that go down the slide have lifted up off the slide– maybe from gusts of wind combining with the 50 mph plus speed of the falling Boat. The solution was to build a series of half hoops along the slide covered with netting. Now imagine a boat rising off the slide, air catches it and I riders heads collide with the net and/or the hoops, That would lead to serious injury like decapitation. I doubt engineers designed that make shift solution to boats flying off the slide– sound more like something the owners did on their own.

  • Can you imagine the gut wrenching heart ache this poor boy’s family is feeling right now reading this article.. this ride should be immediately dismantled.

  • The media should be more sensitive about providing that much detail about the little boy. Maybe it was to make a point about how dangerous the slide’s harness was, or maybe to sensationalize to sell more papers?? In any case, they could’ve just shut down the ride and we didn’t have to know about the details of the death.

  • Problem is the raft is too light and susceptible to wind liftoff. Shoddy construction with bad straps. The raft reminds me of those children’s air houses that get picked up by the wind and blown into the air. Just for mental exercises what do the investors do now to save their investment? Ask their insurance company to cover the accident and dismantling? Redesign it? I think people will still ride it. They still bungee jump, paraglide and ride zip lines and ferris wheels after accidents. Make a better, sturdier, and heavier raft. Maybe enclose the entire lane in plexiglass to keep the wind out and raft in.

    • On the other hand, if all you’d remember was initial reports of a neck injury, you’d soon forget about the tragedy. Some words will stick in your mind and perhaps more will be done to prevent another recurrence.

  • Velcro isn’t appropriate for secure restraints. My hang gliding harness from 40 years ago had Velcro shoulder and waist adjustments, but also sewn nylon leg loops and sewn nylon straps across opu and chest that created a four-point harness system fastened by buckles that couldn’t pop open.

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