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July 12, 2007
With six lifeguards on duty, a 4-year-old boy drowned Thursday afternoon in the new "wave pool" attraction at Great America amusement park in Santa Clara.
The victim was spotted by park workers beneath the surface of the water in the Great Barrier Reef pool, an enormous expanse of churning water about half the size of a football field which had opened at the park less than two months ago.
The child was pulled from the middle of the pool at 2:26 p.m. by park security personnel. Lifeguards and paramedics attempted to resuscitate the child before he was transported to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara, where he was pronounced dead.
The Santa Clara coroner's office identified him Thursday night as Carlos Alexnoro Flores of San Jose.
Great America general manager Bill Lentz said the boy was at the park with his mother and sister. Lentz said, however, that he did not know whether the mother and sister were with the child in the pool or were directly supervising him. Two lifeguards were on duty in the pool, which had opened for the first time two months ago as part of a new addition at the park. Four others were posted at the side of the pool, Lentz said.
"Obviously our thoughts and prayers go out to the family,'' he said. "This is a tragic situation.''
There was no information on how the drowning occurred, Lentz said.
In a wave pool, waders stand or tread water while large waves are generated by machines at one end. The pool holds 355,000 gallons of water, and waders enter it as if they are walking from a beach into ocean waters -- its sloped bottom begins at 0 feet and gradually deepens to 6 feet of water. The park provides floating devices for waders -- but does not require them for children.
Carlos was found roughly in the middle of the pool, and the attraction was closed after the drowning, along with other parts of the Boomerang Bay water park section of Great America.
Park guest Kyle Venell, 14, of San Jose, said his 11-year-old cousin had been in the wave pool at the time of the drowning.
"He said a whole bunch of people starting jumping in trying to help," Venell said, as he left the amusement park with three friends. "He wasn't really sure what was going on."
While saying "there's certainly danger" associated with wave pools, Venell said the drowning wouldn't deter him from future use.
But he suggested that stricter rules would be a good idea for wave pools, such as minimum age requirements for certain depths and mandatory life vests for children.
Lentz said younger children were encouraged to remain in the shallow area of the park's wave pool but added that there are no age restrictions on its use.
Carol Swenson of Pleasanton called her 14-year-old son, Blake, on his cell phone while at the park after hearing news of the drowning, even though moments before she had just spoken to his 13-year-old brother, David, who was with him.
"My heart did sink when I heard a young boy drowned," Swenson said as she picked up her sons. "Just for a moment my heart sank, and told myself, 'I just spoke to David and he had just spoken to Blake.' "
But she called again, "just to hear their voices."
"It just makes me count my blessings," Swenson said. "I am so sad for that family."
Liziel Pena, of Daly City, waited anxiously for her 11-year-old daughter in the parking lot outside the amusement park.
"I'm just worried," Pena said. "I don't know if she's allowed to go to Great America now, because I'm scared. Maybe I'll have to go with her."
The pool opened to the public on May 26 following a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan. It is part of Boomerang Bay, the Australian-themed water park section of the amusement park, and pool use is included with park admission.
According to the park web site, the pool "combines the exhilaration and feel of real ocean waves without the sand...(and) provides for the cleanest splashin' good fun around.''
The Santa Clara Police Department said it was "not allowed'' to comment on the apparent accident and referred all inquiries about the death to the management of the amusement park.
It was the fifth fatal accident at the park, which opened in 1976.
In 1999, a 12-year-old boy fell to his death from the Drop Zone ride. In 1998, a 25-year-old man was killed when he climbed over a security fence to retrieve a hat and was kicked by the dangling foot of a passenger on the Top Gun roller coaster. In 1989, a 9-year-old boy died after falling under a fiberglass log on a water ride. In 1980, a 13-year-old boy died when two trains collided on the Willard's Whizzer roller coaster.
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