Woman killed, 19 riders hurt in Osaka roller coaster accident

Kyodo

A woman died and 19 other passengers were injured, one seriously, in a roller coaster accident Saturday at an amusement park in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, police and firefighters said.

The six-car Fujin Raijin II roller coaster at Expoland, on which passengers stand through the course of the ride, derailed and hit a guardrail around 12:50 p.m. after a wheel axle on one of the cars broke, the park operator said.

The coaster, which can travel up to 75 kph, was in the last half of the 1,050-meter-long course when the accident occurred.

The attraction is about 40 meters high and the ride can carry 24 people. It was carrying 20 passengers at the time of the accident.

Yoshino Kogawara, a 19-year-old company worker from Higashi Omi, Shiga Prefecture, died after her head struck the guardrail. Her friend, Sayuri Furukawa, 20, sustained serious injuries.

Saburo Yamada, president of the operator of Expoland, said he was “at a loss as to what to say to apologize” for “causing such an accident on Children’s Day.”

The operator of Expoland said the accident was caused when a wheel axle — 5 cm in diameter and 40 cm long — on the second car broke just before the coaster entered a circular section of the course. Part of the broken axle fell to the ground.

The coaster ran about 300 meters farther before finally coming to a halt, with the second car tipped toward its left and hitting the guardrail. One of the wheels of the car was later found on the ground below the ride.

The axle was not among the parts checked in regular daily or monthly inspections and had not been serviced since February 2006. The operator said the axle had not been replaced since the roller coaster was introduced in March 1992.

Kogawara was riding in the front left side of the second car. She died instantly when her head hit the guardrail after the car derailed, according to the firefighters. Furukawa was directly behind Ogawara in the same car.

Eighteen other riders aboard sustained minor injuries.

Some industry officials pointed to the possibility of faulty maintenance.

Expoland said it disassembled the coasters on the ride in annual detailed inspections normally held in February. But this year, it did not disassemble them — and the axle went unchecked — because it could not find sufficient work space, the operator said.

The amusement part shut down after the accident, which occurred just as the Golden Week holidays were coming to a close. There were about 5,000 visitors at the park at the time of the accident.

The park was to remain closed Sunday.

“The roller coaster was swinging to the left and right,” said Nobuko Handa, 70, from Hirano Ward, Osaka, who witnessed the accident.

“Just as I was thinking it might fall off, I heard a scraping sound followed by people screaming,” she said. “It came to a halt at last after a sound that I can hardly describe in words. My legs trembled.”

A female junior college student who saw the accident after coming out of a restaurant with a friend said, “We walked out after hearing the sound of iron objects hitting each other and found the second car stranded with people not moving.”

A woman who took the ride about 20 minutes before the accident said, “I sensed a stronger-than-usual feeling of almost being thrown out.”

Expoland opened in 1972 as part of Expo Park, which sits on the venue of the 1970 World Exposition.

There was another accident involving a roller coaster Saturday afternoon — at an amusement park in Sakai, Fukui Prefecture, in which four people were slightly injured. A two-man car collided with another that was stationary at the Wonderland amusement park at around 2:45 p.m., the Fukui Prefectural Police said.

Meanwhile, the Mitsui Greenland amusement park in Kumamoto Prefecture said it conducted an emergency checkup of its Fujin Raijin roller coaster — the original type of the roller coaster involved in the fatal accident at Expoland — and has found no irregularities.

Mitsui Greenland officials said it will stop operating the ride until the cause of the accident in Osaka is confirmed.