Four teenagers have been taken to hospital with serious injuries after 16 passengers faced a four-and-a-half hour nightmare trapped on an Alton Towers rollercoaster following a crash.
The accident happened at around 2.09pm on the Staffordshire resort’s 50mph Smiler ride after two carriages crashed on a low section of the track.
Two males and two female teenagers suffered serious leg injuries in the crash, while the other 12 occupants required triage.
Their evacuation went on until 6.35pm, an Alton Towers spokeswoman said.
Steve Wheaton, Assistant Chief Ambulance officer for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “Of the 16 patients involved I can confirm four of them have significant lower limb injuries and were trapped in the carriage for quite some time.
“Of the other 12 patients we now believe they will be walking wounded patients and the delay has just been in extricating them from the car.
“Of the four critically injured with lower limb injuries two of them have gone to the Royal Stoke University Hospital and two of them have gone to the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire as trauma centres.”
The £18 million rollercoaster, which boasts a world record-breaking 14 loops, has been closed on two occasions because of safety concerns since opening two years ago.
In July 2013 it was closed after reports that a bolt was seen to have fallen from the ride and in November that year the rollercoaster was closed after plastic guard wheels came loose and hit front-row riders.
In a previous scare, 16 journalists were left stranded on the Smiler for around 30 minutes during a preview ride before it opened to the public in May 2013.
They were left dangling after the rollercoaster came to a halt at a 50-degree angle.
Following today’s accident, Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments was the biggest faller on the FTSE 100, with its shares down 3 per cent.
Alton Towers divisional director Ian Crabbe admitted to reporters that he had not been alerted to issues that the Smiler reportedly suffered earlier in the day.
He told a press briefing at the resort: “This ride has had its issues to start with, which is fairly normal for a big rollercoaster.
“I think it would be unfair to reflect on those issues, which were originally part of the ride when we first opened it and say they are connected to this incident, which I don’t believe they are.”
Mr Crabbe added that a full investigation with the involvement of the Health and Safety Executive is under way at the park.
Four air ambulances were involved in the rescue effort, together with four ambulances and several senior paramedic managers.
Staffordshire Fire and Rescue said it had sent four pumps, a rescue tender, rope rescue and an aerial ladder to the incident.
A ramp was built to help emergency services reach the occupants of the ride, who were approximately 25 feet up in the air at an angle of around 45 degrees.
Visitors to Alton Towers spoke of their shock at what had happened.
Danny Simm, a musician and songwriter who witnessed the aftermath of the accident, tweeted: “People unconscious, knocked out. Blood everywhere. It really was shocking. Air ambulances landing now, people still stuck.”
Lucy Farrugia said: “Smiler broke down when I was on it this morning and now it’s crashed. Hope everyone on it is OK, saw the air ambulance arrive.”
Sophie Underwood, who was waiting to board the ride, told the BBC: “They had made quite a few announcements to say there were technical difficulties. They were sending coaches around with nobody on them.
“And then they said they had sorted it out so they decided to put people on the coach.”
Ms Underwood described a carriage carrying passengers crashing into another that was stationary at the top of the ride.
“It was quite scary. There was a big crash and as soon as everybody heard the crash, everybody started walking back and leaving the ride,” she said.
Alton Towers claims that the Smiler features “a series of twisted psychological effects including optical illusions, blinding lights and near-misses designed to mess with your mind”.
Merlin Entertainments, which is based in Poole, Dorset, runs Alton Towers since buying out previous owner the Tussauds Group in May 2007.
It is the world’s second-largest visitor attraction operator behind Disney and runs 105 attractions, 11 hotels and three holiday villages in 23 countries.