World’s Greatest Waterslide Was Tragic

Grace Higgins | August 15th, 2019

One would think the story of the world’s greatest waterslide would be a terrific tale of excitement and wonder. Unfortunately this is far from the truth. The story of the world’s greatest waterslide is one of sadness, lies and deceit, which ultimately ended in a tragic accident.

Coming in at over 169 feet, the Verluckt waterslide was the tallest in the world. It was even taller than Niagara falls, allowing riders to plummet down a near vertical shoot of 17 stories and speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. Called Verluckt after the German word for insane, this waterslide was not for the faint hearted. It was created to challenge the laws of physics and built in the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.

You see Kansas had a major advantage over neighbouring states such as Missouri, you could build theme rides and waterslides without needing any special training or qualifications. And the ride did not even have to pass any safety tests. These lax state regulations ultimately caused the death of Caleb Swhaab, a 10 year old boy who was decapitated by the ride. His raft went airborne into the safety nets at such speed that he was decapitated and died instantly.

Senior designer John Schooley and park owned Jeff Henry had built waterslides before, but they fastracked the construction of Verluckt to ensure it was featured on a TV reality show about amusement parks. Later after the accident, stories emerged of them testing the ride by filling the rafts with sandbags. They didn’t perform any real design or safety tests and simply kept adjusting the ride until the rafts with sandbags came down safely.

A team of experts that investigated the rafts and ride after the tragic death of Caleb, concluded that other rafts had gone airborne. In fact, claims came out of other riders being hurt by the waterslide, but everything was suppressed and swept under the rug quickly. Many of the reports were buried and destroyed.

And though the owners were charged with negligence, child endangerment and manslaughter, they were able to ensure all the charges were dismissed. The water park was closed and the waterslide demolished, and the death of Caleb Swhaab never really saw justice.

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