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Rollercoaster girl's leg amputated

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

The family of a 17-year-old girl injured in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers have thanked medics for saving her life after she was forced to have one of her legs amputated.

Leah Washington was one of four people seriously hurt last week when two carriages collided on the Smiler ride.

Doctors have confirmed that the teenager, from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, has had her left leg amputated above the knee and suffered a fractured hand in the incident.

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

Alton Towers, which opened today for the first time since Tuesday's crash, said it was "deeply saddened" by news of Leah's injuries and insisted it would provide "full support" for all 16 people who were hurt.

In a statement issued by the hospital, Leah's father David Washington said: "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.

A spokesman for the University Hospital Coventry declined to comment on Mr Thorpe's condition, while Ms Balch's solicitor said there was no update on her recovery.

Mr Pugh's father Simon 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."

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."

Witnesses reported that people on the ride spent 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: "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 took their 15-year-old daughters to the Staffordshire entertainment park 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 that safety precautions would be at their highest.

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

Fellow 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 discovered only 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.

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 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 said: "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.

Another passenger on the ride reportedly had surgery to her stomach after suffering internal bleeding in the crash.

Chanda Singh, 49, from Wednesbury, West Midlands, was sitting in the second row of The Smiler with her daughters Meera, 26, and Vanisha, 29, the BBC said.

Meera told the BBC that the family returned home in a taxi after the crash before going to Manor Hospital in Walsall, where her mother had surgery to her stomach and is receiving treatment for a damaged liver and blood clots.

Merlin Entertainments, which owns Alton Towers, said it accepted "full responsibility" for the crash and it will provide compensation for all 16 people injured.

Mr Varney said: " We are deeply saddened by the news about Leah and all our thoughts are with her and her family.

"We cannot undo the events of last week but everyone in the company and at Alton Towers is determined to do all we can to provide appropriate support to those who were injured and their families."

A Merlin Entertainments spokeswoman said the company had written to the injured and the letters were hand delivered by Alton Towers representatives over the weekend.

She added: " We absolutely recognise what a difficult time this is for everyone, especially those who have been so seriously injured, and we have tried to do this in a way that is both sensitive and appropriate.

"Irrespective of the outcome of the current investigations into the causes of the accident, in these letters we have accepted full responsibility to those who had been injured in the accident and confirmed that we will ensure that compensation will be provided to them.

"We have recommended each of the injured guests or their families instruct a lawyer and submit a claim for compensation which we will ensure is dealt with swiftly and sensitively.

"In addition we have engaged the services of Health and Case Management Ltd (HCML) - a leading firm of specialist independent rehabilitation providers - to provide all of those involved with the best support for their individual needs whether from the NHS or by providing additional support and services. HCML have already made contact with some of those affected in order to progress this."

The families of Victoria Balch, Leah Washington and Joe Pugh later issued a statement saying they are pleased there has been a formal admission of liability from the insurer in respect of the damages claim.

Paul Paxton, head of Personal Injury at Stewarts Law, comments: "I will be meeting with the solicitors acting for Merlin and its insurers this week to discuss the early release of money to assist with financial hardship and rehabilitation."

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