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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tragedy at Walt Disney World


In a place where magic lives year-round, an unexpected tragedy has cast a dark cloud over Walt Disney World.

Early this morning (approximately 2 a.m.), two monorail trains collided, killing one Disney cast member, who was driving one of the monorails (based on photos from Local 6, it appears to be pink and purple monorails). There were about six guests on one of the monorails. No one else, including the driver of the other monorail, was seriously injured. Orange County authorities have identified the monorail driver as 21-year old Austin Wuennenberg.

The monorails collided near the Transportation and Ticket Center. According to local authorities, one monorail ran into the back of another monorail parked at the TTC. The monorail was transporting a handful of guests to the TTC from Epcot. According to local news reports, this is the first fatal accident in the history of monorail service at Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971.

A former Walt Disney World monorail driver told the Orlando Sentinel today that the monorail trains use a safety system called Mapo. According to the driver, when a monorail train approaches within two checkpoints of another train, it automatically stops. "The former driver said he believes there are about 150 to 200 feet between checkpoints," the Sentinel reported.

"Today, we mourn the loss of our fellow cast member. Our hearts go out to his family and to those who have lost a friend and co-worker. The safety of our guests and cast members is always our top priority. The monorail is out of service and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement to determine what happened and the approximate next steps," said Mike Griffin, Walt Disney World Vice President of Public Affairs in a statement released after the incident.

Both Disney and local authorities are still investigating the accident and the monorail system remains closed. As for how this happened, other Disney fan sites have former monorail drivers give their thoughts about what might have caused this accident. While there is no official report on the cause, I will not include reports from fan sites providing such wild speculation. If you want to read their thoughts, you are welcome to do so. When some official reports are released, then I'll post that. Until then, how about we let Disney, the Orange County and Reedy Creek officials and OSHA do their jobs without our armchair quarterbacking.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of the fallen driver, with all Disney cast members and with the entire Disney community as we mourn this tragic accident.
More coverage from CNN.com , MSNBC.com, the Orlando Sentinel and WESH.com. Additional details about Austin Wuennenberg from Orlando Attractions Magazine.
Related article from the Orange County Register: Disneyland monorail runs as usual after Florida crash.

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