Alton Towers opens its gates to the public this weekend, signalling the approach of summer and the return of the now infamous Smiler. The roller coaster, which was involved in a horrific crash last June, has been closed for over nine months, and Vicky Balch -- who lost her right leg as a result of the incident -- has described the timing of the move as ‘inappropriate’.
The 20-year-old, who now uses a hydraulic artificial leg and requires regular physiotherapy sessions, said, “I’ve never wanted it to reopen. I understand it’s a business and it’s what they have to do. I just didn’t think it’d be so soon. If it was a worse day, we could’ve died, worse-case scenario. But at the end of the day it feels like the money comes before the people on the ride.”
Alton Towers owner Merlin Attractions Operation Ltd is due in court on April 22nd to face charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and Balch thinks the theme park should have waited until the court case was over before opening the Smiler again.
“We’ve not heard the court findings, so they’ve not heard them either, so how do they know what the HSE have found? I just don’t think they should’ve opened it before they even heard the findings. It’s not even been a year, it’s only been nine months and we’re all still going through everything. It’s not got easier for any of us. It’s just hard, and then to realise it’s opening again, it brings it all back.”
Alton Towers, however, insists it’s introduced adequate safety measures and, crucially, improved training. After all, the ride's safety systems are said to have been overriden manually. “We do understand how the injured and their families are feeling and we have been in conversation with the families on an ongoing basis," said Gill Riley, Alton Towers' marketing director. "However, as we stated last year, our own investigations did show the ride itself was not at fault and the ride has been independently certified as safe to operate.”