Yesterday news broke that 10-year-old Caleb Schwab suffered a fatal accident on what the Guinness Book of World Records has verified to be the world's tallest water slide at Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kansas.
The ride, called Verrückt, wasn't a stranger to negative press. It was opened to the public in 2014 after a series of delays that required adjusting the rafts riders sit in to ensure rider safety. Basically the rafts launched in the air when dummy riders were on board, and the angles had to be readjusted and the slide rebuilt prior to opening. However, despite the controversies that surrounded the ride's inception, it was thoroughly tested and should have been safe to ride for Caleb, as it has for thousands of park visitors before him.
Verrückt stands over 168 feet tall and riders experience speeds of up to 65 to 70 miles per hour. The slide itself is covered with netting, secured with bars along most of the length of the ride, and riders are strapped to the raft with two velcro straps—one across the chest, and another over the waist.
The park is closed today and the slide is closed indefinitely. While an official cause of death has yet to be released to the public, the word on the street (i.e. social media) is pretty horrible—it appears the young boy might have been decapitated. The two women who were riding with him were also injured with broken facial bones, although they haven't been identified.
The reactions from the public have been quite varied, as one would expect. Many commenters are offering condolences to the family, while others are condemning the park and the slide's designers—especially with all of the reports that the velcro straps have come undone on other park visitors during the ride.
There's no reason his parents would have thought that going on the ride was akin to risking death.
Most commenters, like myself, are devastated. We live near Schlitterbahn and have driven by the park dozens of times. The slide is a prominent landmark, visible for miles around, and although we've never visited, I never would have been tempted to try it out, and likely would have discouraged my kids from doing so. A water slide that towers 17 stories in the air would never be on my to-do list.
However, much to my surprise, there are quite a few people who are blaming the parents:
"Why would any parent allow a 10-year-old to ride something this dangerous? That is just crazy! It is tragic for the family."
"He was 12 , you had to be 14 to ride, bad parents , they'll probably sue and win, sad world we live in."
Can we just lay off the parent blame game? It's ridiculous. There's no way his mom and dad should shoulder any of the blame for their child's accidental death.
The park has rules in place that are supposedly designed to keep everyone safe. For example, not everyone is allowed to ride it due to its extreme heights and speeds. While there was initially an age limit (riders had to be 14 or older to ride), this has since been dropped and kids have to be at least 54 inches tall, no matter their age. Also, the combined weight of each group of riders should be between 400 and 550 pounds. Riders are measured and weighed at the bottom of the slide, and weighed again at the top to verify before they're strapped in and sent on their way.
There's no reason his parents would have thought that going on the ride was akin to risking death. Thousands of people have taken the plunge and the ride is inspected daily by park staff and thoroughly inspected each season.
No matter what, we should let this mother and father grieve and avoid placing blame on them. They went to a water park to have fun with their family and returned home at the end of the day without one of their children. And that's something no parent should have to endure.
Photograph by: Schwab Family