Last year, a Kansas state grand jury issued a 20-count indictment against the management of Schlitterbahn water park for the horrific death of a child while riding Verrückt, a much-hyped, Guinness World Record-breaking water slide in 2016. Caleb Schwab, the ten-year-old son of Kansas state representative, Scott Schwab, was decapitated after a raft on the 168-foot-tall slide went airborne over its main ramp, striking the guard railing which anchored the ride’s safety net.
The story took on a cinematically terrifying air as more and more details came to light about Verrückt’s haphazard design, coupled with the park management’s downright sinister cover-ups and intimidations of potential employee whistleblowers. Yesterday, an excellent 10-minute documentary released by The Atlantic highlights just how batshit insane the entire Verrückt story really was, giving viewers possibly this summer’s most terrifying daytime horror film outside Midsommar. The curious can check out the video below, but be forewarned there are some pretty haunting images of the accident’s aftermath around the 5:50 minute mark.
I mean, where to start? There’s park owner, Jeff Henry, mugging for a news crew before the ride’s release that he “always set out to break all the records. I want to be the first at a bar to buy a drink, and I want to be the first to meet a pretty girl, and I want to be the first at everything.” There’s watching footage of test rafts literally careening off the slide’s ramp to the guffaws and backslaps of its designers on the scene.
“Every bit of advice we’ve been given from the brightest brains and smartest engineers and mathematicians just have not been correct,” he later says confidently to a Travel Channel documentary crew who featured the ride’s construction on its show, Xtreme Waterparks (Henry, it’s somewhat important to note, had absolutely zero training in either of the above careers).
Then there’s learning Verrückt’s much-hyped debut had to be delayed three goddamn times for safety issues before it finally opened to the public. The whole thing is a tragedy in slow motion to watch unfold, so much so that an anonymous Schlitterbahn worker was even quoted at the time as saying Schwab’s death was, “tragic, but not surprising.”
Perhaps the most chilling segment is the documentary’s closing, which is simply a Schlitterbahn commercial aired while the ride was open depicting happy families running around the park, Verrückt looming in the background.
“At the end of the day, we all have something special to hold onto,” the cheery woman announcer tells viewers at the commercial, an ominous post-script if there ever was one. The whole thing is best summarized by the clip of a child interviewed at the time as to whether or not he’d ride Verrückt.
“No,” he intones in most incredible Midwestern drawl. “It’s too scary.”
You’re damn right, kid.