The history of serious incidents at Oakwood Theme Park including a 16-year-old girl's death

A ride called 'Drenched' at Oakwood theme park in west Wales. It was previously called 'Hydro' and was the scene of a fatal accident in 2004
-Credit: (Image: Daily Mirror)

Oakwood Theme Park in west Wales is back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after an incident which saw several people hurt on one of its rides. The park, located near Canaston Bridge in Pembrokeshire, labels itself as “Wales’ biggest and best family theme park”, bringing “fun and thrills” to all who visit.

But on Wednesday (July 11) one of the venue’s biggest attractions - Bounce - was shut down after several people reported being injured after an “emergency stop” led to some onboard claiming the ride quickly dropped to ground level without slowing down. Built by a German manufacturer, Bounce is what’s known as a ‘drop tower’ ride. It first opened in 1999 but closed in 2016 for a period of six years, re-opening in 2022 following refurbishment. You can get the latest WalesOnline newsletters e-mailed to you directly for free by signing up here.

The ride will now remain closed while Oakwood management “consult with the ride manufacturer”. Unfortunately, Wednesday’s incident was not the first time the safety of rides at the theme park has come under scrutiny - and it came 20 years after the darkest day in the park’s history.

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Below is a breakdown of three significant incidents to have happened at Oakwood since it first opened in 1987, when they happened and what we know about them.

Death of teenager on Hydro - 2004

16-year-old Hayley Williams, from Pontypool, died after falling from Hydro - a water ride where people are taken up to a height of above 100ft in a ‘boat’ before plunging in a near-vertical drop and crashing into the water below. It was billed by Oakwood as “Europe’s fastest and wettest watercoaster”.

On April 15, 2004, Hayley had been taken to Oakwood as a treat, along with her younger sister and her parents. While on Hydro, she was ejected from the ride because - as an inquest later found - “she was not properly restrained”. She was airlifted to hospital but died of internal injuries.

Hayley Williams, who was 16 when she died after falling from a ride at Oakwood
Hayley Williams, who was 16 when she died after falling from a ride at Oakwood -Credit:PA

Another person on the same ride - 10-year-old Martin Rothwell from Swansea - was treated for head injuries after he was hit by Hayley as she fell to the ground. In 2008, Oakwood Leisure Limited pleaded guilty to a charge of “failing to conduct its undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in its employment, including Hayley Williams and Martin Rothwell, were not exposed to risks to their health and safety”.

The theme park was fined £250,000 as a result. Hydro - which cost £1.7m to build and had a nine-tonne 24-seater boat which hurtled down into a million gallons of water - was closed for 12 months following the incident. It was renamed Drenched in 2011 and still operates to this day.

Hayley’s family said: “Hayley was a precious and loving daughter, always smiling, who had done nothing wrong apart from setting foot in Oakwood Park.” The park’s then chief executive, Patrick McNamara, said: “We are very sorry that this tragic accident happened and our thoughts, as always, are with the family at this difficult time.” The theme park was bought from the McNamara family in 2008 by Spanish company Aspro Parks.

Man injured on Treetops - 2022

A man was injured on the Treetops rollercoaster on October 23, 2022, after reportedly falling from one of the ride’s carriages. Crews from Wales Air Ambulance and the Welsh Ambulance Service attended the theme park and the man was taken to hospital. One eyewitness described hearing “horrific screams”. Sean Hayes from London said: “I shouted for the ride to stop and staff were clearly panicking to get it stopped. It went on for a bit before it grinded to a halt. We had to evacuate the ride on a bend and staff were present to help people off.”

Dr Harriet Lloyd told the BBC that her husband was on the ride at the time. She said he noticed there was a man and a teenage girl in the carriage at the back of the ride. Dr Lloyd added: “When he turned around the man was no longer there, and then they saw him on the second descent of the ride, and he’d obviously been thrown out of the carriage. He could see him and then the passengers were trying to help hold the last carriage on because the girl was still in it and it was still moving around.”

The park was closed to the public following the incident and an investigation carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found no fault with the Treetops rollercoaster. HSE inspector Joy Gunning said: “During the technical investigation, part of the ride was taken to our laboratories in Buxton for further examination. However, we could not identify any fault which might have caused the incident and no further HSE action will be taken. Both the ride operator and the injured person have been informed of our decision.”

Several hurt in Bounce ‘horror’ - 2024

Several people were injured after an incident on the Bounce ride on Wednesday (July 10). It has been reported that 20 people were on the ride when it “fell to the floor” without stopping. An investigation is now underway in an attempt to establish what exactly happened on Bounce - which re-opened two years ago after a £400,000 refurbishment. The ride takes guests around 45 metres into the air, drops them back down again before travelling back up. The theme park’s website describes it as a “gravity-defying, stomach-lurching shot ‘n’ drop tower ride”.

A visitor who was on the ride when the incident happened told WalesOnline it “fell to the floor without slowing down”. They said school-age children were “screaming and crying” as the ride “went up and down a few times” before it “fell quickly to the ground from about halfway up the tower”. The visitor, who did not want to be named, claimed around eight people received first aid treatment on site while four others visited hospital for further treatment.

The Bounce attraction at Oakwood
The Treetops rollercoaster at Oakwood

Oakwood bosses have confirmed that Bounce will remain closed while they investigate. A spokesperson for the theme park said on Wednesday: “During operation on Wednesday, our drop tower ride Bounce experienced a programmed emergency stop procedure in response to the ride drop height during a guest cycle. The stoppage, which resulted in the passenger gondola stopping in the ride brakes, was attended to by our park team and the ride was lowered to the ground where guests were able to disembark.

“A number of guests reported minor lower back pain immediately after the occurrence and were attended to by our on-site team off first aiders, where assistance was provided. One group sought additional treatment locally, whilst others continued their day at the park. As is always the case in such an occurrence, we have consulted with the ride control system manufacturer who are attending site today. We have temporarily closed Bounce to enable them to complete their works, and to aid our internal investigation. Our other rides remain open as planned."