10-year-old Caleb Schwab, the son of Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, was decapitated Sunday on the Verrückt water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.
The Verrückt slide in Kansas is billed as the world's tallest water slide.
Caleb, his parents and 3 brothers attended "elected officials day" at the water park on Sunday. Numerous elected officials and their families were in the park when the tragedy happened.
According to witness reports and news footage, Caleb and his brother Nate, 12, climbed the 17-story steps to the top of the water slide tower.
According to park policy, 3 riders must weigh a combined minimum of 400 pounds to keep the rubber raft from going airborne off the hill after the initial 17-story, nearly vertical drop.
News footage of previous test runs shows the rafts flying through the air off the 2nd hill (see video below).
Engineers added the weight requirement and a safety net over the chute to keep the rafts from flying off the water slide. The safety net was supported by metal hoop bars. There was a break in the net at the bottom of the vertical drop to allow riders to escape if the raft stopped.
The 2 boys were weighed on a scale at the bottom of the tower and again on a scale at the top of the tower.
The 2 brothers could not ride the raft together with a 3rd person because the combined weight of all 3 riders didn't meet the specified 400 lb. minimum.
So Nate went down the water slide first with 2 adult strangers.
Then it was Caleb's turn.
Caleb entered the raft with 2 women who were strangers to him. As per policy, the lightest rider (Caleb) was seated in the front of the raft and the heaviest rider sat in the back.
Witness accounts on social media stated the weight of the 2 adult women and the boy did not equal 400 pounds.
Other witness accounts stated the scale at the top of the slide was malfunctioning that day.
Caleb was secured into the front seat with 2 large velcro straps. One strap went across his shoulder like a car's seatbelt, and the other strap was secured around his waist.
Earlier riders had complained that the velcro straps failed or came loose during the ride.
The initial 17-story vertical drop straight down was uneventful.
But as the raft crested the 2nd smaller hill, something went horribly wrong.
Prior test runs showed water friction caused the rafts to come to a dead stop before cresting the smaller hill.
So powerful water jets were added to push the rafts up and over the smaller hill (see photo).
The force of the water jets were adjusted to keep the rafts from flying off the slide. The 400 pound weight limit of the passengers was designed to keep the front of the raft from lifting and catching air at the top of the hill.
It was near the top of the smaller hill that Caleb's raft went airborne due to the 3 passengers being under the 400 pound weight limit.
The velcro strap that should have held Caleb in the raft failed, and he was launched into the netting. His head collided with one of the metal hoop bars supporting the netting.
At 65 mph, Caleb's head was decapitated above the shoulders.
There are reports that Caleb's head hit one of the women, fracturing her jaw and causing an eye injury. Both women suffered facial lacerations from the netting.
Caleb's brother Nate, waiting for him at the end of the ride, witnessed the tragedy as it unfolded.
Witnesses report hearing Nate screaming hysterically as Caleb's body slid down the chute and came to rest at the bottom.
Aerial photos shows the blood-soaked chute where Caleb's body came to rest.
The boys' father, State Rep. Schwab, consistently voted against regulating big businesses. The lax regulations and no height restriction for amusement park rides are the main reasons the park's owners chose Kansas City to build their water slide.
"Our park in Kansas City doesn't have a height restriction so we decided to put it right here," said Jeff Henry, Verruckt creator and Schlitterbahn co-owner.
In an interview with USA Today before the park opened to the public in July 2014, Henry admitted there were engineering problems with the water slide's design.
"We had many issues on the engineering side," Henry told USA Today. "A lot of our math was based on roller coasters at first, and that didn't translate to a water slide like this. No one had ever done anything like this before."
After the park's grand opening in 2014, the age limit for children was changed from 14 to 10.
"It's dangerous, but it's a safe dangerous now," Henry said in 2014. "Schlitterbahn is a family water park, but this isn't a family ride.* It's for thrill seekers of the world, people into extreme adventure."
*(bold emphasis mine)
The netting on Schlitterbahn's Verruckt being removed by crews following on the ride death of 12yo boy. pic.twitter.com/eYcvmhkSTF
— Brian Abel (@BrianAbelTV) August 8, 2016