Another fatal Disney bus accident

Disney bus accident

There’s word this morning that a tourist has been killed at Walt Disney World. The 69-year-old Massachusetts man was in the parking lot at the Port Orleans Resort when he stepped into the path of a Disney bus.

It appears that the bus driver was not at fault and will not be charged. There were passengers on the bus at the time, and none of them were injured. This marks at least the fourth Disney bus accident this year at Walt Disney World, including one in April that killed a 9-year-old boy.

Earlier this year, there were concerns that a computer dispatching system on board the Disney buses, dubbed “Magic in Motion,” was a distraction for the drivers, though none of the earlier crashes this year was attributed to the driver being distracted.

Disney acted anyway and altered the system this summer so that the drivers cannot interact with it unless the bus is at a complete stop.

The Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating last night’s crash, and I’m sure that Disney will conduct its own internal investigation, as well. If there are safety problems found, they need to be corrected.

But it’s also time to examine Disney guests’ behavior on vacation.

Disney’s bus system is extensive. In fact, it’s larger than the city bus systems in nearby Orlando and Tampa. The highway system and parking lots there are also extensive – there are 40 square miles to cover and hundreds of thousands of cars travel the roads each day.

Yet, I continually see distracted people in “vacation mode,” pushing strollers through parking lots while their face is in a guidebook or map, children running off unattended in parking lots and, yes, people darting out in front of buses and cars and not using crosswalks.

So, don’t forget your common sense and safety rules when you go on vacation. While much of Walt Disney World is about the illusion – the “magic” – those are real cars and buses driving around the roads and parking lots.

[Image credit: Flickr user Darren Wittko]

Three nights in a haunted hotel room


The best thing about being an agnostic is that you don’t have to live your life fearing the unknown. The worst thing is admitting the possibility that there might be something to fear after all.

Instead of pretending to have all the answers, my belief system ranks things in order of likelihood, and ghosts are pretty far down the list. Not as low as Santa Claus or the “we never landed on the Moon” conspiracy theory, but a poor ranking nonetheless. So when I heard that my hotel room in England was supposedly haunted, my only thought was that I’d bagged a good story for Gadling.

Unlike a lot of supposed hauntings, this one’s actually based on a true story, related to me by local historian and folklorist Steven Wood.

Back in 1906, Haworth, Yorkshire, was holding its annual gala. Like in other years, brass bands played, entertainers wowed the crowd, and food stands sold all sorts of delicacies. This year, however, the people of Yorkshire had been promised something special. Lily Cove, a famed “aeronaut”, was going to do a death-defying parachute jump from a balloon. This was only three years after Kitty Hawk, so nobody in the area had ever seen an airplane, and balloons were a rarity too. Seeing a lovely lady jump from one and land safely was something of a miracle.

Lily Cove stayed at The Old White Lion Hotel in Room 7, the very same room I had. While waiting for a day with good weather the glamorous aeronaut made many acquaintances in town and became very popular.

On June 11 the weather was fair and thousands gathered to see her performance. After she and her manager Captain Frederick Bidmead checked the balloon, she secured herself to a trapeze hanging from the bottom. The balloon soared into the air with Lily waving to the crowd with a handkerchief. The idea was that once she got to a good altitude, Lily would leap from the trapeze and a ripcord would open up her parachute. She’d then float gracefully to earth.

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The balloon floated over the fields. After it got up to about 700 feet Lily jumped. The parachute opened as planned, but one witness saw Lily shrugging her shoulders and a moment later she detached from her parachute and plummeted to the ground. Farmers rushed to the spot, but she was dead. Her broken body was carried back to her room, my room, and laid out until a coffin could be made for her.

The whole town went into mourning. Captain Bidmead, a veteran of 83 parachute descents, said he might never fly again. At the inquiry he gave the opinion that she’d deliberately separated herself from the parachute. He suggested that because she was drifting towards a reservoir and didn’t know how to swim, she decided to get to the ground early. She must have thought she was much lower than she was and could land without injury. Others said she committed suicide, but there seemed no reason for this. The court ruled that Lily Cove died of “misadventure.” Parliament soon banned parachute performances so such a tragedy would never happen again.

According to local ghost story collector and guide Philip Lister, it wasn’t long before guests began reporting strange happenings in Room 7. Some woke up with a start, thinking they were falling through the air. Others saw an attractive young woman standing at the foot of their bed. The sightings have continued to the present day, and everyone in Haworth knows of Room 7’s reputation.

I didn’t hear any of this until I had spent my first night in the room. Tired from a day’s travel from Madrid, I slept fine, although I woke up once, glanced at the clock, saw it was 4:10, and went back to sleep.

The next day one of my travel companions told me my room was haunted. She started telling me the story but I stopped her. I didn’t want to be subject to suggestion. I wanted to test Room 7, and not have my own mind play tricks on me. The conversation turned to ghosts stories in general, and over the course of the day four of my nine travel companions told me they’d seen ghosts at least once in their lives. I was amazed. These educated, quite sane travel writers were telling me in all seriousness that they’d seen spirits. Nearly half of our group had a story to tell, and I didn’t even get around to asking all of them! Apparitions from the beyond are more common than I supposed.

The second night I slept fine again, although I briefly woke up again shortly after 4am. I think it was 4:08, but I was too sleepy to be sure.

By my third night I’d heard the whole story. I even went on a ghost tour, which I’ll describe in my next post in this series. So when I tucked myself in I knew just what had occurred to that poor woman who had stayed in my room. Once again I saw nothing, except I briefly woke up and looked at the clock.

It was 4:11 in the morning.

Waking in the middle of the night isn’t unusual for me, but I never wake up at the exact same time three nights in a row. Is this significant? Well, by the third night I was wondering if I would again awake shortly after four, so that might have been autosuggestion. The time seems to have nothing to do with the haunting, since Lily did her ascent at seven o’clock in the evening.

So was Lily Cove waking me up? Probably not. The tricky thing about ghosts is they’re unprovable. Even if I’d awoken to see a spectral woman at the foot of my bed, that wouldn’t prove anything except I had a weird experience that could have been a hallucination. Yet ghost stories are found throughout history and in most if not all cultures. We seem to need ghost stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s life beyond death or that dead people occasionally come back to scare the crap out of the living, but it does show ghosts are a part of the human experience. What they signify is something we’ll probably never know, and not knowing is far more interesting than pretending you have all the answers.

Don’t miss the rest of my series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: The good old days were horrible!

This trip was sponsored by VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire, who really should have put someone more impressionable in Room 7.

8 insane skydiving mishaps (videos)

The heart-racing jump from a plane is supposed to end with a solid landing and a drive home. Skydivers preach safety, but there are times when the worst happens — often by no fault of the skydiver. The following skydiving mishaps all end in ways other than intended. Remember — if you’re going to jump out of a plane, be sure to get thorough training.

Warning: some of the clips are graphic. We’ve placed the worst ones at the end.

This skydiver comes in way too fast for a landing and goes tumbling across a field.


Although both of this skydiver’s parachutes fail, this landing looks worse that it is. Though he hits the ground hard, he emerges with nothing more than a scratch on his neck.


This water-and-skydiving highlights reel shows that water and skydiving really do not go together.


This silent film showcases a hard landing from a skydiver’s perspective.


Another hard landing from the view of a helmet camera. Watching the slow-motion replay explains precisely why this landing was unsuccessful.


Proceed at your own risk for the rest of the videos. You’ve been warned.

2009 was a relatively safe year for air travel

Yes – I know 2009 is not over for everyone just yet, but assuming nothing bad happens tonight, we’ll be able to say farewell to a year that was relatively safe for air travel.

In 2009, there were 111 accidents involving commercial aircraft. Of those accidents, 20 were fatal to one or more passengers.

The average from the past ten years was 135 accidents, 28 of which were fatal. Looking at the figures for the past three years, air travel is amazingly safe – only one accident for every 1.7 million flights.

In 2009, there were several major accidents – the largest of course involving Air France flight 447 which dropped into the ocean 350 miles off the coast of Brazil. The cause of this crash is still under investigation, and the black box has not been retrieved.

In the United states, the worst accident happened back in February when a Colgan Air turbo prop crashed into a Buffalo home, killing all 49 people on board, plus one person on the ground. The Buffalo crash has thankfully helped create some more attention for pilot working conditions, and improved training.

Of course, the Hudson river incident is the one that will probably stick with us the longest.

We were just 15 days into 2009 when Captain Chesley Sullenberger ditched his US Airways Airbus A320 into the Hudson river. Everyone on board was able to evacuate the plane, and with just a few minor injuries, this accident was a fantastic piece of news for an otherwise gloomy and depressing January. This accident also showed the power of social media, as Twitter was the source of the first news and photos from the crash.

(Sources: NLR-Air Transport Safety Institute / Telegraaf)

Southwest and FedEx planes bump wings

A Southwest Airlines jet bound for Albuquerque clipped wings with a Fed Ex cargo jet Sunday at the Salt Lake City Airport. A spokesperson for Southwest said the jet was about to pull back from the gate when it was bumped by the cargo plane. The pilots had not yet started the engine when they felt the “jolt” of the impact, which sliced off a 6-foot section of the plane’s wingtip.

No one was injured, though there was some initial confusion as to what caused what one passenger said felt like “a mini-earthquake”. The passengers were able to move to another plane for take off; the affected jet was repaired and put back in service.

While on the ground collisions between planes are rare, they do happen. A different Southwest plane clipped another passenger jet with its wing back in March.
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