Veteran dies after experiencing cardiac event on Disney World ride with his wife

Katie Rice

Orlando Sentinel

Joseph Masters was “like a little kid in a candy store” when visiting Disney World, even at 83 years old.

The Palm Coast resident was enjoying a trip to the Magic Kingdom with family, riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, on the afternoon of Sept. 25 when he lost consciousness and died shortly afterward.

“I tell everybody now that my husband died in his happy place because he loved Disney,” his widow, Alice Masters, told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday.

Masters was among 12 people reported as injured on Disney and Universal rides from July through September in a state report released Tuesday. He was not named in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ quarterly injury release, but a report from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office revealed his identity.

The state injury report only identified Masters as an 83-year-old man with a pre-existing heart condition who had a “cardiac event” riding the slow-moving tram attraction on that date and later died. Florida Politics first identified Masters by name, matching the state and county records.

Masters’ death is the first reported by a major Florida theme park since May 2021, when a 58-year-old man with an unknown pre-existing condition passed out leaving Epcot’s Spaceship Earth attraction and later died at the hospital.

The sheriff’s office’s records showed Masters had an implanted pacemaker, hypertension, diabetes and “multiple other medical diagnoses.”

Alice Masters said her husband had had a pacemaker since July. She was on the attraction with him when he lost consciousness and flagged down Disney employees for help when he fainted at around 4:15 pm. Sept. 25.

She said Masters’ last words were, “Here we go,” as the ride picked up a bit of speed.

Disney staff and security started performing CPR on Masters as the ride ended. The Reedy Creek Fire Department took him to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead just after 5 p.m., according to the report.

An emergency physician found Masters had “a large blockage of an artery” at the right side of his heart at the time of his death, the sheriff’s office document showed.

Disney’s staff and firefighters were “wonderful” in responding to the medical emergency, assisting Masters right away, shutting the ride down and providing the family privacy, Alice Masters said. The company paid for the Masters’ family’s taxis to the hospital, she added.

Masters was an Army National Guard veteran and volunteer firefighter who enjoyed riding motorcycles, spending time with family and visiting Disney World. He is survived by his wife, two children and two granddaughters.

Other injuries noted in the state report included instances of guests passing out and experiencing various types of body pain at Disney World and Universal. SeaWorld, Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland Florida did not report any injuries this quarter.

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover attraction at Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, July 11, 2022, in Florida. (Dewayne Bevil/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

On Sept. 23, a 27-year-old woman visiting Disney’s Magic Kingdom went into labor after riding the Tomorrowland Speedway, a racing attraction on a track. It is only the second time a visitor went into labor following a ride since the injury reports began in 2001: a 27-year-old woman went into labor after riding Kilimanjaro Safaris in April 2018.

Other injuries reported at Disney included those of an 83-year-old man who became “briefly unresponsive” on Avatar Flight of Passage on July 8; a 47-year-old man who lost consciousness while on the green side of Mission: Space on July 12; a 59-year-old woman who injured her toes on Alien Swirling Saucers on Sep. 6; and a 46-year-old man who had a seizure after riding Slinky Dog Dash on Sept. 25.

All visitors had an undisclosed pre-existing condition except the 46-year-old, according to the report.

Universal reported five injuries at its theme parks and one at its Volcano Bay water park. At Volcano Bay, a 51-year-old man had chest pain on the Kopiko Wai Winding River lazy river.

Palm Coast Volunteer Fire Rescue/Facebook

At Universal’s theme parks, a 50-year-old man had nausea on the Poseidon’s Fury walk-through attraction on July 18; a 38-year-old woman had neck pain on Jurassic World VelociCoaster on July 24; a 36-year-old man had abdominal pain on Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts on July 26; a 67-year-old woman had a headache after riding Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket on Aug. 31; and a 28-year-old man fainted on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey on Sept. 9.

Under an agreement with the state agency, Florida’s largest theme parks self-report guest injuries that happen on rides and require at least 24 hours of hospitalization. The state agency compiles the injuries in a public report released every three months.

But theme parks’ injury descriptions are limited, listing only the date of an injury, the attraction involved, the guest’s age and gender, if the guest had a pre-existing condition and a brief description of the injury. Often, details of an injury are revealed only through lawsuits, like when an 11-year-old boy’s foot and leg were crushed on Universal’s E.T. Adventure ride in 2019. The theme park reported the injury as “foot pain.”

The state agency discussed revisiting this reporting agreement with theme park representatives in 2020 and 2021, but the groups decided to keep the current reporting system “due to privacy concerns and legal issues,” agriculture department spokeswoman Caroline Stonecipher said in July.

Separate state law allows the major theme parks to conduct their own ride inspections. Lawmakers that include State Sen. Linda Stewart and State Sen.-elect Geraldine Thompson, both Democrats representing Orlando, have voiced interest in changing ride safety regulations. and @katievrice on Twitter

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