Alton Towers ride shut after wheels hit passengers

The Smiler rollercoaster has been closed due to technical issues four times since opening in May 2013. Picture: PA
The Smiler rollercoaster has been closed due to technical issues four times since opening in May 2013. Picture: PA
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A NEW £18 million rollercoaster at Alton Towers was closed yesterday after its wheels fell off and hit passengers riding in the front carriage.

Riders on the Smiler spoke of their fear as they were showered by debris.

A spokeswoman for the Staffordshire theme park said the Smiler was shut yesterday afternoon after the “technical issue”.

She said that, as the ride was being pulled up the second lift hill, some of the small plastic guide wheels that are used to keep the chain inside the chain guard became detached.

“These were caught beneath the track in the safety netting, but regrettably several were flicked on to the guests sitting in the front row of the train,” she said.

“Two of the guests were attended to by park staff and all four remained on the park for the rest of the afternoon.”

One rider, Kevin Hayes-Heath, said that he was in the front row of the rollercoaster carriage when the incident happened and had been in “absolute fear”.

He described how he was “bombarded by the fibre bearings which were splitting and breaking up at the highest point of the ride”.

At £18m, the Smiler is Alton Towers’ biggest investment.

The spokeswoman said an investigation had been launched into the incident.

She said: “We have very stringent safety procedures on all of our rides, including CCTV, so the ride was stopped immediately by the rides team.

“All of our rides and attractions are expected to meet extremely high standards – technologically, mechanically and in terms of the end experience – and a full investigation is ongoing before we determine whether to re-open the ride.

“We are, of course, very sorry for any disappointment the ride’s temporary closure is causing, but the health and safety of all of our visitors is our absolute priority.”

Unveiled in May this year, the 14-loop rollercoaster took more than eight months to build. The highest drop is 98 feet and the track is 3,838 feet long, with a ride time of 165 seconds. The creators claimed the mammoth ride would “put not just your body but also your mind through its paces”.

But the attraction has been dogged by mechanical gremlins, causing the park’s bosses considerable embarrassment.

Within days of opening, and having just been awarded the Guinness World Record for the most number of loops, the 1,170-metre, 50mph star attraction broke down, leaving passengers stranded on the track.

It was shut for four days in July after a piece of track became dislodged.

It was again closed for five days in August due to a technical issue.

At the start of September, thrill-seekers at the theme park were left stranded in the air for two-and-a-half hours on its­TH13TEEN roller coaster when it broke down.

Workers had to take up warm clothing, waterproofs and hot drinks to those trapped before finally attaching harnesses to them and walking them down the track one-by-one.

The news of the latest incident was met with anger and disappointment online.

Craig Campbell wrote on Twitter: “What an absolute joke! Smiler is shut again! Only came back because it was shut the last time. Alton Towers get it together.”

Becky Hume tweeted: “The wheels coming off the Smiler at Alton Towers has potentially put me off returning for life.”

Sophie Bucky added: “The Smiler is closed all day. So annoyed.”

However, late yesterday, it was announced that the ride had been re-opened.