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Internal memos: Fiesta Texas struggled to control the Rattler’s ‘excessive speeds’

After 20 years, a fearsome monster called the Rattler is closing down at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. It’s a good time to reflect on the park’s flagship roller coaster — and how it suffered from excessive speeds when it opened in 1992.

These internal memos and letters were uncovered in lawsuits filed against Fiesta Texas by riders who complained of head and neck injuries after riding the Rattler during the early 1990s. They show how the ride’s manufacturers were struggling to control the Rattler’s high speeds, even after opening day.

Meanwhile, the public knew little about the problems — and was falsely told the ride was tamer than it actually was.

Years later, the Express-News wrote a series of stories about amusement ride safety and published the main material in the documents. Here are three key records (click on the bottom-left corner of each record for a full-screen view):

Excessive speeds

A day after its grand opening on March 14, 1992, Fiesta Texas shut down the Rattler because of “excessive speeds.” Roller Coaster manufacturer Mike Black told Fiesta Texas this was a wise move and discussed ways to control the ride.

Rushed construction

Dana Morgan, who built the Rattler’s train cars, criticized the decision to open the ride without adequate testing. He also criticized design changes that increased the height and steepness of the first stomach-churning drop.

Publicly, Fiesta Texas was saying riders enjoyed gravitational forces of “3 g’s,” or forces three times the earth’s gravity. Morgan’s letter said the ride was actually exerting forces of 5 g’s on riders, which increased the risk of injury.

Questionable excess g-forces

Rattler builder Mike Black pointed out to Fiesta Texas owner USAA that design changes had increased the ride’s height and produced “questionable excess g-forces.”

So how was all this resolved? After two years, Fiesta Texas finally lowered the height of the Rattler’s first drop. Fiesta Texas insisted it had nothing to do with the scores of personal injury lawsuits filed against the park.

The Rattler is now a tamer ride — but still a tricky one. On its final days of operation, the cars froze yesterday and 20 riders were stranded for 45 minutes.