SeaWorld horror crash saw boat plunge into crowd in freak accident 26 years ago

Darcy Rafter August 17, 2022
SeaWorld horror crash saw boat plunge into crowd in freak accident 26 years ago
Photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images


At SeaWorld Ohio on August 17, 1996, an 18-foot-long (5.5 m) motorboat crashed into a stadium of onlookers in a horror boat crash. The boat lost control and catapulted into the side of the stand, seriously injuring crowd members.

Following the incident, Sea World cancelled ski shows at all four of its parks whilst state investigators concluded the accident was due to a mechanical failure.

In videos of the horrifying event, the captain can be seen steering the wheel away from the crowd. However, the boat fails to comply.

The audience was expecting to be splashed by the speed boat as it skipped across the water during the show, but instead, a disaster unfolded…

Horrifying SeaWorld boat crash explained

Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

The horrifying accident happened at around 6 pm, not long after the Baywatch water ski show began on Geauga Lake. In the show, an actor jumps out of the boat in a simulated rescue scene.

With an audience of 4,000 people in attendance, the incident injured 22 members aged from two to 78. Four were left in critical condition. Five of those injured received medical attention at the scene. The other 17 were taken to hospital, as per Sea World’s spokesman Ted Molter at the time.

It must be noted that an accident like this is a complete freak incident. Molter commented on the rarity in 1996: “It was the first major accident at the park in 27 years and the first in 20 years of water ski shows.”

Onlookers describe how the incident unfolded

Witnesses revealed how the boat jumped out of the water and reached the fifth row of onlookers.

“Everyone thought the boat would just continue on,” one witness said.

“But then it went right up, maybe three or four rows deep.”

A man who was on board the boat jumped out of it as it crashed and luckily he remained uninjured. Whereas actors and audience members quickly ran into the stands and helped lift the 1,500-pound boat up to help rescue people caught under it.

SeaWorld Ohio is now defunct

SeaWorld Ohio was later sold and became the now-closed amusement park, Geauga Lake. Six Flags eventually bought SeaWorld Ohio in 2001. Shamu and the other animals were relocated to the remaining SeaWorld parks.

The world-famous captive orca, Shamu, was separated from her mother as a baby. She was allegedly sent to SeaWorld Ohio to increase ticket sales there as per reports. Many people disagreed with this as in nature, it is common for these orcas to stay beside their mothers for their whole life as they travel in their pods.

When SeaWorld Ohio shut down, they moved Shamu to San Diego. The orca was then again moved to San Antonio just eight months after that.

The company announced in 2016 it would end theatrical orca shows and its breeding program. The Orca shows with trainers in Orlando and San Antonia ended by 2019, according to The Sun. Instead, they provide a Killer Whale presentation for customers to learn more about Orcas and can watch the animals in the pool. However, no acting shows or live entertainment sets between humans and Orcas together in the water are permitted by SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.

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Darcy is an experienced journalist passionate about celebrity culture and entertainment. After gaining a degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University she has also become a social media specialist, always keeping informed on the latest trends. With almost five years of experience in media, her expertise is analysing platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When she's not tracking the latest trending content, she’s watching films and eating lots of chocolate.