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Alton Towers rollercoaster crash: Teenage victim has her leg amputated

By David Mercer

Published 08/06/2015

The scene at Alton Towers after four teenagers have suffered serious leg injuries in a collision between two carriages on the amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster
The scene at Alton Towers after four teenagers have suffered serious leg injuries in a collision between two carriages on the amusement park's Smiler rollercoaster

One of the people seriously injured in last week's Alton Towers rollercoaster crash has had her left leg amputated above the knee, doctors have confirmed.

Leah Washington, 17, from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, also suffered a fractured hand in the incident, which left four people with serious injuries and 12 others hurt.

Leah's boyfriend, 18-year-old Joe Pugh, was treated for two broken knees and extensive hand injuries, the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust has confirmed.

The announcement came as the Staffordshire tourist attraction opened its gates to the public for the first time since Tuesday's crash, when two carriages on the Smiler ride collided.

David Washington, Leah's father, said medics "saved Leah's life" following the crash, after which she was said to have been given a blood transfusion and morphine before she passed out.

In a statement: "We would like to thank our family and friends and all the well-wishers for their support.

"Leah has suffered a life-changing injury and now has many months of rehabilitation ahead of her.

"We have done this to put people's minds at rest and we would also ask everyone to respect Leah's privacy as she undergoes this rehabilitation.

"We would like to thank all the emergency services at the scene and all the hospital staff who saved Leah's life."

Leah, her boyfriend Mr Pugh, 27-year-old old hotel assistant manager Daniel Thorpe from Buxton in Derbyshire, and 20-year-old Vicky Balch from Leyland in Lancashire, have been described as the most seriously injured.

Ms Balch suffered potentially life-changing injuries in the crash, and is expected to make a "substantial claim for damages" to support her recovery, her solicitor said last week.

The four are being treated at the Royal Stoke University Hospital and the University Hospital Coventry.

Simon Pugh, Mr Pugh's father, said: "I would like to thank our friends and family for their support.

"We would also like to thank the staff at the hospital who have been very accommodating, have been lovely to us and have protected our privacy.

"We would ask people to respect Joe's privacy now and over the weeks and months ahead."

Eyewitnesses reported spending around four hours waiting to be rescued as emergency crews were faced with the delicate task of safely reaching the bloodied passengers, stranded 25ft in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees.

One man who was on the ride when it crashed described the moment he "held on for dear life" as the carriages collided, before he saw blood dripping from an injured woman in front of him.

The man, who gave his name only as Oli, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, told Heart North West radio station: "As we came round the corner we probably only had a second or two to see it.

"Obviously we all just screamed and held on for dear life as we hit the back of it. We moved forwards and backwards with the force until we came to a stop at 45 degrees.

"It was a severe jolt. The people in front where they hit it were obviously in quite a lot of pain so they were screaming. A lot of people were coming to the side of the barrier and the people in front were screaming 'Get some help, get some help'.

"There was a lot of blood coming from the carriage in front. It was dripping all over the floor. There was quite a lot of blood coming from them.

"I thought (it was) the guy in front of me. I saw at some point he had cut his face, but it was actually coming from the girl next to him who had the severely damaged leg."

The X-Sector of Alton Towers - which houses The Smiler - will remain closed until further notice to allow the Health and Safety Executive access to the ride for investigations.

The Spinball ride will also be closed at the Staffordshire theme park until enhanced safety protocols have been implemented, but Merlin Entertainments said this would take slightly longer than it had hoped due to the design of the ride.

Three rides at other Merlin Entertainments parks, Thorpe Park, and Chessington World of Adventures - both in Surrey - will also remain closed until new safety protocols can be implemented. But these are expected to reopen soon.

The closures did not discourage queues of people from visiting Alton Towers today.

Nina Lancaster and Daniella Dobson had taken their 15-year-old daughters along today, because they thought "today would be the safest day".

Mrs Lancaster said they booked the trip about a month ago while their children had a day off school in Leeds, and were determined to go.

"We wanted to come, and the girls were really excited when they found out yesterday that it would open today," she said.

Mrs Dobson said she was more cautious about going, but took the view safety precautions would be at their highest on today of all days.

"We didn't want to let the children down," she added.

Asked what rides they would be heading to first, Mrs Lancaster said she did not know but on the journey down told daughter Sophie and Daniella's daughter Jo "they can't go on the front or the back".

However, the two pupils, who attend The Grammar School at Leeds, took a different view saying they did not mind.

Mrs Lancaster said: "They'll probably pick the highest, tallest, fastest rides they can."

Fellow theme park visitors Paddy O'Shaughnessy, Tanya Wolff, Gareth Mcgahan and Christine Hopkin, from Nottingham, had all taken a day off work to spend time at the park.

They only discovered late last night that their plans were back on track, with the announcement that the park would be open.

"It was this, or Skegness," said Mr O'Shaughnessy.

"We were gutted when they first closed it. It's a shame what happened, but it hasn't put us off."

Between them the group have racked up dozens of visits over the years, with Mr O'Shaughnessy's first trip on Nemesis in the year the ride opened in 1994.

"We're thrill-seekers, so it wouldn't put us off," he said.

"We planned to come the day the accident happened, and my mate said 'You watch, they'll close it now, you won't be able to go', and they did. But we're so happy it's open."

Asked which ride they were heading for first, the group conferred before deciding on Nemesis.

Ms Wolff then added: "We'll go on everything. Twice."

Behind them at the main gate, there was a steady flow of customers coming off the monorail train, which brings people in from the site's vast car parks, before queuing up to pay.

Ms Hopkin said she had confidence in the park's safety, adding: "We wanted to go on The Smiler.

"I would go on if it was open, I just wouldn't sit on the front."

While talking to a reporter, she then turned to a staff member and asked "Will it ever open again?"

The man replied: "We need to wait for the investigation first."

Merlin is thought to have racked up losses of around £500,000 a day since the incident and it has also faced accusations that staff dithered for 10 minutes before making the first 999 call, despite screams of distress from bloodied passengers on board The Smiler.

Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said the incident was a "terrible event" for everyone involved.

He added: "We are very aware of the impact it will have on those involved and we are doing all we can to provide our support to those injured and their families."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has removed the carriages involved in the crash and taken them to the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton for further analysis.

An Alton Towers spokeswoman said: "We are deeply saddened by Leah's news, and all our thoughts are with her and her family.

"We have made contact with all the families and have assured them that we will provide full support to all of those involved now, and throughout their recovery and rehabilitation."

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