Verrückt (water slide)
Verrückt, as seen from Interstate 435
|Schlitterbahn Kansas City|
|Opening date||July 10, 2014|
|Closing date||August 7, 2016|
|Designer||Jeff Henry & John Schooley|
|Height||168 ft (51 m)|
|Speed||70 mph (110 km/h)|
|Max vertical angle||60°|
|Boats||10 boats. Riders are arranged 1 across in 3 rows for a total of 3 riders per boat.|
|Height restriction||54 in (137 cm)|
At 168 feet 7 inches (51.38 m), Verrückt was the world's tallest water slide when it opened in 2014. It was designed by park co-owner Jeff Henry after he told a Travel Channel film crew covering a 2012 trade show that he was opening a big new ride the next summer; he had nothing in mind at the time and the design process was accelerated.
Verrückt's opening was delayed a year due to safety and construction issues. Sandbags sent down the slide in tests regularly went airborne at the slide's lower bump, where the rafts reached speeds of 70 miles per hour (110 km/h). After opening, the ride was popular, and won a Golden Ticket Award, but at least 13 people suffered non-fatal injuries from hitting the netting above the slide. Then, in 2016, it killed the son of Kansas state legislator Scott Schwab.
After the death, Kansas changed its laws on amusement park safety to require that all attractions be inspected by the state. Criminal charges led to the arrests of several individuals, including the park's owner, the operations manager, and a co-designer of the ride. The trial court dismissed the charges before trial, finding that the prosecution had committed multiple instances of prejudicial misconduct in presenting the matter to the Grand Jury.
Original plans for Schlitterbahn Kansas City, Schlitterbahn Waterparks' first park outside Texas, called for a $750 million complex that included hotels and resort areas. Officials in Wyandotte County, Kansas, where it was to be built, were delighted when the company announced the plans in 2005, seeing Schlitterbahn's plan as the culmination of efforts to draw residents of the Kansas City metropolitan area to spend their disposable income in Kansas rather than Missouri. State legislators from the area passed a law allowing Schlitterbahn to "self-inspect" its attractions as it did in Texas, unlike all other amusement parks in Kansas, which were subject to state inspection.
However, the full plans never came to fruition. The Great Recession two years later forced many amusement park operators, including Schlitterbahn, to scale back their plans and focus on making their existing parks profitable in the challenging economy. Schlitterbahn Kansas City was reduced to a $180 million park without any lodging, and was not open for a full season until 2010. It was successful, but not to the degree Schlitterbahn and co-owner Jeff Henry had originally expected.
In November 2012, Schlitterbahn announced plans for the creation of the world's tallest and fastest water slide at their Kansas City park, to open in summer 2013. No name was given during the announcement, while specifications on the height of the ride were kept secret in order to ensure that the completed ride would set a world record for its creation.
The water slide was conceived on the spur of the moment by Henry, after a team from Travel Channel's Xtreme Waterparks asked at a trade show what he was working on. After initial attempts to pitch the idea to vendors at the show failed, Henry decided to build the slide himself, with assistance on the design provided by ride designer John Schooley. Henry had described the new ride to the Travel Channel crew as a "speed blaster", a term he had likewise improvised. He and Schooley knew that Schlitterbahn had to live up to the hype Henry had created and design something previously unheard of. "Basically we were crazy enough to try anything," Schooley later recalled.
Henry pressed his design team to complete the ride at a faster pace than usual; many of those involved worked almost around the clock. Calculations that were normally allotted three to six months instead had five weeks to be completed. As they began testing, rafts kept going airborne on the ride's large bottom hump.
In November 2013, the ride was officially named Verrückt, the German word for crazy or insane, with the opening date pushed back until the start of the park's 2014 season. The Guinness Book of World Records named Verrückt the world's tallest water slide in April 2014, before it was even finished. At 168 feet 7 inches (51.38 m), it surpassed the Kilimanjaro at Aldeia das Águas Park Resort in Brazil. When the park opened, delays in construction and testing of the ride led to its opening date being pushed back to June 5, and then June 29, after the lower portion of the ride was rebuilt, to coincide with a television special about the ride; the park later cancelled this opening date and two days of media previews following further delays.
An unnamed lifeguard at the park told Esquire in 2019 that he saw some of the later tests, which the park primarily did after it had closed for the day, with only select employees – usually those who had been with the company for the longest – allowed to watch. In his case, he saw the Xtreme Waterparks crew ride the ride. "The only time I saw the slide run successfully was on the Travel Channel episode,[a] but I wouldn't even call that successful", he recalled, since the raft in that case got stuck on the lower hump. Sandbags on the raft frequently went airborne at that point as well; some viral videos of this leaked out. "I told my friends and family it was only a matter of time until someone died on Verrückt", the lifeguard said.
A safety consultant hired by the park shortly before Verrückt's scheduled opening told Henry it was unfinished and unsafe. When complete, he recommended that only riders 16 and over be allowed on the ride. Henry, who had no formal training in engineering, decided 14 was better. Right before the opening, however, he dropped any age limit.
The ride was eventually completed and officially opened on July 10, attracting national media coverage. Among the first riders was then Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. The riders who had seen the videos of 110-pound (50 kg) sandbags flying off the rafts went on anyway—one local judge told Esquire later that she rode the water slide ten times that day, and an employee who had loaded the sandbags during testing said he went down twenty times over its first two days. "That should tell you something about how I felt about it", he said. However, Henry and Schooley, while watching riders that day, noted how many rafts seemed to be going airborne on the lower hump, into the netting meant to keep them on the slide if that happened.
Two months later, Verrückt was voted the world's "Best New Waterpark Ride" at the 2014 Golden Ticket Awards. However, at least thirteen riders suffered non-fatal injuries, such as concussions or slipped and herniated discs – many of which had longterm effects – after either hitting the netting or being thrown into it. After a Missouri man thrown from the raft suffered facial injuries in June 2016, the park's operations manager allegedly attempted to cover up the incident, telling lifeguards what to write in their reports; it is believed that was not the only accident where this happened.
Even some riders who were uninjured were unnerved by Verrückt. A Kansas City man who had made a point of going down it due to favorable experiences with the Texas Schlitterbahn parks recalled having to grab the raft's auxiliary straps when the Velcro ones holding him came loose after the first drop; he was thankful that his son had used the weight limit as an excuse not to ride. A local woman whose boyfriend held her in the raft likewise noted to Esquire that the netting and hoops on the lower hump showed signs of many instances where people had collided with it.
Verrückt was designed to consist of two drops, the initial being a 17-story plunge, with a five-story uphill midsection. The ride was designed to accommodate the use of three-person rafts, each weighing 100 pounds (45 kg) and carried up by conveyor to the top of the slide, while riders were required to climb 264 steps to reach the top. To avoid issues with rafts lifting off the slide, rider groups were weighed twice – once at the bottom and again at the top before riding – to make sure that their combined weight was between 400 pounds (180 kg) and 550 pounds (250 kg), and that no single rider weighed over 300 pounds (140 kg).
The starting point of the ride, at 168 feet (51 m), was taller than either Niagara Falls or the foot-to-torch portion of the Statue of Liberty. As it was beyond the 120 feet (37 m) that zoning codes permitted, the design required a variance (the height was increased from its initial plan of 148 feet (45 m), which was also above the limit). After the announcement of the ride's height and the certification of its world record on April 25, 2014, Schlitterbahn tore down most of the lower part of the ride, in order to rebuild and re-engineer it after sandbags were seen flying off the ride during testing. As a result, the second drop was changed from 45 degrees to 22 degrees, an extra 5 feet (1.5 m) was added to the uphill portion of the ride to slow down rafts, and a series of metal hoops and netting supported by them were added into areas where rafts had flown off in early testing.
Death of Caleb Schwab
On August 7, 2016, Caleb Schwab, the 10-year-old son of Kansas state representative Scott Schwab, died while riding Verrückt. The death occurred when the raft he was in went airborne and impacted a metal support of the netting, decapitating him. The other two passengers, both women, were injured in the incident — one suffered a broken jaw, while the other suffered a facial bone fracture and needed stitches. In the immediate aftermath, the park was closed pending an inspection. Although the park reopened three days later, the ride remained closed.
An investigation found that the boy, who weighed 74 pounds (34 kg), had been allowed to sit in the front of the raft, rather than between the two women accompanying him — one weighed 275 pounds (125 kg), while the other weighed 197 pounds (89 kg). This led to an uneven weight distribution that contributed to the raft going airborne, despite the cumulative weight of 546 pounds (248 kg), less than the maximum recommended weight of 550 pounds (250 kg). Engineers who inspected the ride also commented that the ride's netting, used in areas where riders travel up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h), "posed its own hazard because a rider moving at high speeds could easily lose a limb if they hit it". Their findings revealed that the use of the metal brace and netting system in the design, along with the use of hook and loop straps to restrain the riders, went against guidelines set by ASTM F-24 Committee on Amusement Ride and Devices. According to the guidelines, Verrückt should have incorporated the use of a rigid over-the-shoulder restraint for riders, and an upstop mechanism to prevent the rafts from going airborne.
After Schwab spoke to his fellow legislators about his son's death and its effect on him, they voted to change the law that had allowed Schlitterbahn to self-inspect, requiring that all the state's amusement park attractions be regularly inspected by the state.
In November 2016, Schlitterbahn announced that Verrückt would be demolished following the closure of a criminal investigation. In July 2018, a judge approved a plan by the park to disassemble the ride beginning the following September. The ride's teardown was placed on hold indefinitely in August 2018, resulting from ongoing discussions in multiple court cases that were filed after the incident. The park finally began dismantling the ride in November 2018; it was completely gone within two months.
On March 23, 2018, a grand jury issued an indictment against Schlitterbahn and Tyler Austin Miles, former director of operations, charging them with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated battery, aggravated child endangerment, and interference with law enforcement. The indictment accused the park of negligence, concealing design flaws, and downplaying the severity of previous injuries reported on the ride.
The 2018 indictment against Schlitterbahn wrote that Henry and Schooley "lacked technical expertise to design a properly functioning water slide" and did not perform standard engineering procedures or calculations on how the slide would operate. Instead they used "crude trial-and-error methods" to test its performance, out of haste to launch the ride. According to court documents, Schooley conceded that, "If we actually knew how to do this, and it could be done that easily, it wouldn’t be that spectacular."
Three days later, on March 26, Henry was arrested in Cameron County, Texas, in connection with the incident. A day later, on March 27, the Kansas Attorney General's office released a new indictment against Henry, Schooley, and Henry & Sons Construction Company — privately owned by Schlitterbahn — charging them with second-degree murder in addition to seventeen other felonies. Schooley was arrested at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after returning from a trip to China on April 2, 2018. The defendants were arraigned in April 2018, and the first criminal trial began in October of that year.
On February 22, 2019, criminal charges were dismissed against Henry, Schooley, and Miles due to the fact that inadmissible evidence had been presented to the grand jury. The judge's ruling called out state attorneys for presenting the Xtreme Waterparks episode to jurors as fact, instead of as a "fictional and dramatized version of events created for entertainment purposes", and expert witnesses for claiming that the designers of the slide were negligent in not following ASTM standards, despite the fact that the law at the time did not require that those standards be followed.
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According to ASTM, hook-and-loop material should never be used as a safety device on an amusement ride. The correct restraint system for a ride like Verrückt would be a Class 5 restraint consisting of rigid overhead shoulder bars with a locking lap restraint.
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- "State of Kansas v. Tyler Austin Miles, Schlitterbahn Waterpark of Kansas City, Kansas". March 28, 2018. p. 16. Archived from the original on March 26, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
The rafts were designed and constructed without any "upstop" mechanisms to prevent rafts from going airborne. Upstop mechanisms have been used for decades and are common safety features in the amusement ride industry.
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A total of 11 people suffered injuries, including slipped spinal disks, whiplash, broken toes and lacerations on the ride in the period between when it became operational in July 2014 and the day of the fatal crash.
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The Kansas City Star reports that Wyandotte County Judge Robert Burns found Friday that state prosecutors showed grand jurors inadmissible evidence in dismissing second-degree murder charges against Schlitterbahn owner Jeff Henry and designer John Schooley. The judge also dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against operations manager Tyler Miles.
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- Archived version of the slide's entry on the Schlitterbahn website
- Archived version of the slide's website
- Recorded tallest waterslide in the world in 2014