Did Kansas City Government Make Verruckt Waterside Less Safe By Requiring Safety Netting?

A 10-year-old little boy, Caleb Schwab, was killed in a horrific accident on the Verruckt waterslide at the Schlitterbahn park in Kansas City. Police have since released the startling details of the death, noting that the child died after his head hit some metal hoop bars used to support the safety netting on the ride.

Prior to the investigation findings that the metal hoop was the point of impact, a spokesperson for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, informed reporters that the city had required the park to put safety netting over the waterslide chute as an extra safety measure, something that was not in the original design that was tested by Schlitterbahn. With the city officials noting that the safety netting was placed at their request, the question now must be asked, did the local government’s insistence on adding safety netting to the ride cause Caleb Schwab’s death?

The Blaze reports that 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was decapitated while riding the Verruckt waterslide after his raft became airborne and his head hit a metal loop installed to support safety netting around the ride. Following the fatal accident, many have asked why Kansas does not have stricter theme park regulations as the ride was seemingly unsafe from the start.

In fact, following the death, many past Schlitterbahn visitors have come forward with their own stories of things going wrong on the “world’s largest waterslide.” Numerous riders say that when they rode the Verruckt, their velco safety belts came unfastened during the ride and they were forced to hold on to handle bars inside of the raft to stay in place. Some claim that they even told ride workers about the incident, but that the workers made it seem minor and not a safety concern.

However, following the death of Caleb Schwab, the riders say they now realize it was something that should have been investigated and not brushed off by employees. In addition to concerns over the safety belts, many are asking why Kansas does not have state-sponsored safety inspections.

The deadly disaster has shed light on lax safety regulations in Kansas with regulators noting that amusement parks are responsible for their own inspections and that state officials only do random audits of the inspection documents, they do not perform an actual inspection of the ride themselves. Instead, each park is allowed to use their own private inspectors.

Though the lack of regulations may be concerning to many, the Kansas City Star points out that in the case of the Verruckt, city officials may have actually required a “safety” feature that ended up causing the death of Caleb Schwab. In an interview with The Star before the investigation into the young boy’s death was complete, Mike Taylor, a spokesman for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, let reporters know that it was officials from the local government body that forced Schlitterbahn to place “safety netting” over the waterslide’s chute.

“We raised that issue. I think they realized we need to put that extra safety precaution. The sides on that thing are really low.”

Taylor noted that the slide’s chute was designed and tested with lower sides so that riders could see out into the park. However, Taylor said it appeared unsafe and that local officials insisted that safety nets be installed. Though the government officials were attempting to make the waterslide safer, it was actually the addition of the safety nets that contributed to Schwab’s death.

The investigation into the tragic death revealed that the child hit his head on metal hoops supporting the safety netting after his raft became airborne. The boy was traveling at approximately 65 mph at the time of the collision with the bars, which decapitated him above the shoulders. While it is unknown exactly what would have happened to Caleb had the safaty nets not been in place, it is known that the decapitation would not have taken place as the metal hoops would not have been in his path. Instead, if Caleb was thrown from the raft and over the waterslide chute, he would have fallen 50 feet to the ground below.

While the 50-foot fall could have proven fatal to the child, it may have also been survivable. As Mental Floss points out, people have survived falls from 20,000 feet. Therefore, with the knowledge that the safety netting contributed to the death of Caleb Schawb and the safety netting was not originally part of the Verruckt design, do you think city officials should be held partially responsible for the death as they insisted on the addition to the ride?

[Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP Images]