The Horrible Disney World Accident That Had Guests Fleeing For Their Lives

Walt Disney World purports to be “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” as Orlando Insider Vacations reports. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of visitors to the central Florida megaresort leave with smiles on their faces after having fully enjoyed all that the destination has to offer.

However, despite the Walt Disney Company’s best efforts, sometimes things go wrong. The attractions and vehicle systems used throughout the property are machines, after all, and machines aren’t foolproof. In most cases, a ride malfunction simply means that the guests may have to be evacuated from the attraction. It may inconvenience the riders, and having to exit through a backstage area and see the attraction with the lights on may spoil some of the “magic,” but it’s largely a non-issue.

But early in the resort’s history, a ride malfunction seriously endangered the lives of several dozen passengers, possibly creating a panic (accounts differ) among those who were too close to the action for comfort.

A monorail caught fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of guests

On June 26, 1985, a monorail train departed the Epcot station, bound for the Magic Kingdom. Per Orlando Sentinel, some passengers noticed that one car was filling with smoke as the vehicle was pulling out of the station. According to a lawsuit filed years after the incident, the passengers demanded to be let out, but their demands were ignored.

Not long after pulling out of the station, however, the train stopped, and a voice came over the speaker system said that the vehicle would have to be halted due to “congestion,” according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In fact, two tires had gone flat and caught fire, and the flames had spread to the ride vehicles themselves — in which passengers were traveling.

Bruce Benda, who was traveling with his wife from Iowa, said that one of the passengers in their car opened the window and could see flames. “At that point, people started panicking,” Benda said.

Passengers tried desperately to get to safety

Now surrounded by flames and far enough above the ground that jumping to safety was out of the question, the trapped passengers went the only direction they could: up. As Bruce Benda told the Sun-Sentinel, “We pushed the door open and stood on a window latch to get onto the roof. The flames were shooting two or three feet above the monorail when we were getting out. They got stronger and stronger.”

While most of the passengers were as calm as could be expected while dozens of feet off the ground with flames closing in on them, a few were panicked and screaming.

Eventually, order was restored, and the 200 or so passengers were evacuated. According to The Associated Press, no one was injured, aside from some minor smoke inhalation cases.

Some passengers later filed a lawsuit against the Florida resort. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the plaintiffs alleged that the monorails are unsafe — due in part to the lack of chutes, ladders, or walkways — and did not (at the time) have an evacuation plan in place.

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