CONCORD, Calif. - Laughter and high spirits gave way to screams when a water slide collapsed under the strain of a mob of high school seniors, sending them plummeting three stories.
One girl died and 32 other teens were injured yesterday. Two remained in critical condition today.
"I heard a crash of the slide breaking," said Mark Fisher, a student at Castro Valley High School who witnessed the accident from another slide. "Parents everywhere were running over."
Ignoring warnings from lifeguards, seniors scheduled to graduate later this month from Napa High School rushed up the Banzai Pipeline at Waterworld USA to squeeze in one more ride, said Rick McCurley, vice president of Premier Parks, which owns Waterworld.
At 3:30 p.m., the park announced that the students were to return to their buses for the trip home, apparently causing the students to rush the lifeguard at the top of the slide, McCurley said.
The lifeguard normally allows just one person at a time down the slides, but the guard couldn't control the large group of teenagers, said Steve Mayer, Waterworld's general manager.
As many as 30 students leaped onto the twisting, spiraling slide. The first few down braced themselves as others piled on, with many holding hands to form a long chain.
The 30-foot slide snapped 10 feet down, sending the teens plunging to a paved walkway, wooden steps and landscaped areas.
"It just cracked and gave way," said Russ Tiberio of San Francisco. "Crack, snap, gone. That fast."
Survivors said they were trying to break a school record for the number on the slide.
One girl, identified by the county coroner's office as 17-year-old Quimby Ghilotti, died 45 minutes later of chest injuries. Helicopters and ambulances rushed the injured to nine area hospitals.
The victims were among about 200 seniors attending festivities before graduation a week from Thursday.
An investigation was under way, but city officials said they had never had safety problems at Waterworld, which was closed indefinitely.
The water slide is subject to local, not state, safety inspections, said Mark Carleson, deputy chief of the state's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was not known when the ride was last inspected.