What began as a day filled with joy and excitement at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas turned into a heart-wrenching tragedy, claiming the life of 10-year-old Caleb Schwab.
Among the witnesses to this harrowing incident was Caleb’s elder brother, Nathan, who was burdened with the painful task of relaying the horrific events to their parents. The pair had embarked on what should have been an exhilarating experience on the Verrückt waterslide, the name of which translates from German as ‘Insane’. This mammoth slide boasted a staggering 17-story drop, surpassing even the height of Niagara Falls.
On August 7, 2016, the Schwab family, including father Scott, were invited to Schlitterbahn Waterpark as part of ‘Elected Officials Day’, granting them free admission to the park’s attractions, which included 14 waterslides and two pools. The Schwabs, like many others, were drawn to the allure of the park’s reputation and thrilling rides.
Caleb’s father, Scott, vividly recalled his son’s excitement leading up to their fateful encounter with the world’s tallest waterslide. The brothers eagerly joined the queue for the ride, and before they ventured off, Scott shared a heartfelt reminder with his sons, emphasizing the importance of their bond as brothers. Caleb, demonstrating his understanding, responded with a heartfelt, ‘I know, Dad’.
With enthusiasm, Nathan and Caleb set their sights on the Verrückt waterslide, eager to partake in the adrenaline-pumping adventure. However, the ride operators intervened, separating the brothers to adhere to weight requirements for the raft. Nathan went ahead, joined by two strangers who met the weight criterion. Meanwhile, Caleb embarked on the front of a three-person raft, accompanied by two adult women he had never met before. This marked the beginning of the tragic chain of events that would forever alter the Schwab family’s lives.
Tragedy struck as Caleb hurtled down the slide at speeds reaching 70 miles per hour. In a horrific turn of events, the young boy was flung from the raft, colliding with the safety netting at such force that he was decapitated, losing his life instantly upon impact.
Nathan, who had been eagerly awaiting his brother’s arrival at the bottom, witnessed the catastrophic scene. Overwhelmed with shock and grief, he rushed to his parents, hysterically conveying the devastating incident he had just witnessed.
As reports of a loud impact and an injured boy on the ride circulated, waterpark staff swiftly arrived at the scene. Their arrival led to the heart-wrenching discovery of Caleb Schwab’s lifeless body, floating in the pool below the slide. Two women who had been aboard the raft with Caleb sustained facial injuries, including a broken jaw, but miraculously survived the impact.
Michelle Schwab, the boys’ mother, recounted the agonizing moments that followed. Her son’s panicked cries echoed in her ears as she confronted the unimaginable. The traumatic sight was shielded from her by a concerned waterpark staff member, who recognized the severity of the situation.
In the midst of the chaos, Scott Schwab, a father yearning for answers, summoned the strength to ask a waterpark employee the painful question: “Is my son dead?” The response confirmed his deepest fears, leaving him shattered.
The ride, dubbed Verrückt, was conceived in 2012 by Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry and senior designer John Schooley, with the intention of securing a Guinness World Record. Tragically, Caleb Schwab’s untimely demise cast a shadow over this endeavor. Both Henry and Schooley faced serious charges, including aggravated battery, endangerment of a child, and involuntary manslaughter. These allegations stemmed from alleged lapses in safety precautions during the slide’s design and construction. However, these charges were eventually dismissed, despite accusations of inadequate safety testing and design practices that prioritized trial and error.
The tragedy forced the permanent closure of the Schlitterbahn Water Park, and the Verrückt waterslide, once a symbol of thrill-seeking adventure, was obliterated in the wake of the profound loss.