After an hour standing in line, you finally get a seat on the amusement park's most awe-inspiring ride — a towering roller coaster called Millennium Force. The butterflies flutter in your stomach as the ride operator secures the restraint over your shoulders and you realize there's no turning back. Ahead, the rail seems to climb into the clouds. Your heartbeat doubles as the car creeps ahead — up, up, up until you top out at 310 feet (94 meters) on the precipice of a near-vertical drop [source: Cedar Point]. This is a bad time to wonder: Is this thing safe?
You'll be glad to know before you hurtle down the track at 93 miles per hour (150 kilometers per hour) that the answer is yes. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) estimates the chance of being killed on an amusement park ride is just 1 in 750 million [source: IAAPA, "Amusement"]. Compare that to the likelihood you'll be struck by lightning in a given year, which, at about 1 in 960,000, makes roller coasters look exceedingly safe [source: NWS].
Still, deaths do happen. Between 1994 and 2004, 22 people were killed on roller coasters in the United States because of rider or operator error or mechanical failure (an additional 18 died from pre-existing medical conditions) [source: Pelletier and Gilchrist]. And while these incidents are certainly the exception during the roller coaster's 200-plus-year history, there are still a frighteningly high number of incidents to choose from for our list of 10 deadliest roller coaster accidents.