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Directing Disney monorails from restaurant lead to collision, lawyers say

06 August 2010 by LOCAL 6 NEWS

LAKE BUENA VISTA — A Walt Disney World manager's decision to direct monorails by radio from an off-site restaurant led to a deadly collision, according to lawyers representing the victim's family.


 
In the early morning of July 5, 2009, Disney monorail pilot Austin Wuennenberg, 21, died as another monorail backed into the train he was driving.


Wuenneberg's mother is suing Walt Disney World for wrongful death, claiming the company negligently missed numerous opportunities to prevent the deadly collision.


In newly filed court papers, the family claims the monorail cockpit Wuennenberg was riding in had "virtually no bracing or frame support whatsoever". They allege that Disney officials knew "a collision is certain to ... injure or kill anyone in it."


On the night of the crash, monorail operations manager David Gilmore was not stationed inside the control tower at Disney's Transportation and Ticket Center. Instead, he was eating dinner at a Perkins restaurant across the street from the resort, according to court records.


Had the manger been in the tower, according to Wuennenberg's lawyers, he would have seen a closed-circuit video monitor showing the track switch was in the wrong position, as well as another computer monitor displaying the same information.


The manager would have also "had a direct line of sight ... which would have alerted anyone paying even casual attention ... that Monorail Pink was not on the proper line," according to the lawsuit.


Walt Disney World's attorneys have acknowledged that a monorail maintenance employee failed to flip a track switch, despite notifying the manager he had done so. That error caused two monorails to be routed onto the same beam.


During depositions, the pilot of Monorail Pink, Alan Rubino, testified under oath that he was "flying blind" because he could not see out of his cockpit as he reversed his train down the wrong beam, and into the path of Wuennenberg's Monorail Purple.


Rubino also claimed the monorail's automatic crash avoidance system had "prevented collisions involving his monorail before." However, in order to move his train onto a different beam, he and Wuennenberg were instructed to turn off their anti-collision systems that night, court documents state.


According to the family's lawsuit, anyone in the control tower could "simply push a button to stop this terrible collision... and therefore save Austin's life."


"The monorail manager flippantly continued eating his Perkins meal ... while blindly issuing radio commands to the monorail drivers. Indeed, this was a case of the blind leading the blind," Wuennberg's attorney argues in court papers.


Since the July 2009 crash, Walt Disney World has implemented several new monorail operating procedures, according to internal company documents. Monorail pilots must drive their trains forward across track switches instead of in reverse. Also, a second maintenance worker must visually verify the switch has been flipped.


Recently, Disney created a new position called central monorail controller. That employee is responsible for monitoring all monorail movements along the 15-mile system.



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