Tue, Jul 07, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Employee dies in Disney accident

TRAGEDY IN PARADISE: Sheriff’s officials were investigating a collision that killed a 21-year-old driver in the first fatal crash in the monorail’s history

AP , LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA

Two monorail trains crashed early on Sunday morning in the Magic Kingdom section of Walt Disney World, killing one train’s operator, emergency officials said.

Disney said it was the first fatal crash in the monorail’s 38-year history in the park.

The transit system, which shuttles thousands of visitors around the sprawling resort each day, was shut down while authorities investigated the holiday weekend wreck.

The monorail operator died at the scene of the crash, which happened at about 2am, said Bo Jones, deputy chief for Reedy Creek Fire Department. The other train operator was uninjured, but was taken to a hospital because he was emotionally shaken. Jones said five park guests were treated at the scene, though the Orange County Sheriff’s office said six were treated.

“To see the accident, to see the scene of what had happened and the fact that there was a life that was lost, it was very sad. It was very somber,” Jones said.

Disney’s senior spokesman Michael Griffin identified the driver as 21-year-old Austin Wuennenberg. Griffin would not discuss how long Wuennenberg had been with Disney or the circumstances surrounding the crash. Disney officials also declined to discuss how the monorail system operates.

“They are extremely rare,” Griffin said of accidents at the park. “The safety of our guests and cast are a top priority above all else.”

It is unclear what caused the crash, Jones said. Orange County Sheriff’s officials are investigating.

A spokeswoman for Stetson University in nearby DeLand confirmed that Wuennenberg was a student at the school. A woman standing in front of Wuennenberg’s home in Kissimmee declined to comment on Sunday afternoon and directed questions to Disney officials, saying the family wanted “private time to grieve.”

One of Wuennenberg’s former Stetson classmates, Brandon Ross, said the 21-year-old had scheduled his classes around his Disney job and took precautions if he was working a night shift. Ross said his friend would make the hour-long drive from DeLand to the Orlando area the day before his shift so he wouldn’t be tired when he operated the train.

Jones said the crash happened at the park’s ticket and transportation center. About a dozen guards wearing blue Disney security uniforms guarded the monorail station on Sunday morning.

“You would think it would be so safe,” said 20-year-old Lauren Shoebottom, who was visiting the park from London. “You don’t expect it on holiday, do you?”

Griffin issued a statement offering condolences to the employee’s family and saying the monorail was closed.

“It’s a bit shocking,” said 22-year-old Danielle Williams, of London. “Disney seems so perfect.”

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