Video: Autopsy shows 'abnormalities'

updated 6/30/2006 4:05:55 PM ET 2006-06-30T20:05:55

The 12-year-old boy who died after riding a Walt Disney World roller coaster had a congenital heart defect, a medical examiner ruled Friday.

The autopsy of Michael Russell was done one day after he passed out while riding Disney-MGM’s Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. His father, an Iraq war veteran, performed CPR on the boy, but Michael was pronounced dead at a hospital.

“No evidence of injury was found, but congenital heart abnormalities were detected, which will be further evaluated,” the Orange County medical examiner’s office said in a statement.

The cause of death was left pending until additional tests are conducted, Dr. Sara H. Irrgang, an associate medical examiner, ruled.

Operating properly
Disney World reopened the coaster Friday after determining that nothing mechanical caused the boy’s death. A Disney Web site description of the ride says: “Zoom from 0-60 mph with the force of a supersonic F-14, take in high-speed loops and turns synchronized to a specially recorded Aerosmith soundtrack.”

“Walt Disney World engineers and ride system experts completed a thorough inspection of the attraction overnight and found it to be operating properly,” the company said in a statement. “A representative from the state Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection observed the ride inspection and testing.”

Disney and other large amusement parks are exempt from state oversight, but Disney has allowed government inspectors to watch after fatalities.

Father: A very healthy child
The boy’s father, Byron Russell, noticed that Michael became limp while they rode the coaster along with his mother and 7-year-old brother. When the minute-long ride finished, Russell pulled Michael off and performed CPR until paramedics arrived, said Barbara Miller, Orange County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

Miller said Russell told officials that the boy was healthy and that the family didn’t know of any underlying medical problems.

The company and military said they were assisting the family.

The father is a part of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and served in Iraq, said special forces command spokesman Maj. Jim Gregory.

“You can’t even put words to how devastating this would be,” Gregory said.

Disney deaths
Michael’s death was the latest in a string of tragedies at Walt Disney World in recent years. At least 15 people have died at Disney’s theme parks in Florida and California since 1989, including some with pre-existing health conditions. Disney-MGM is among Disney’s four Florida parks.

Most of the company’s recent troubles have been over another ride — Epcot’s “Mission: Space,” a rocketship attraction that simulates a flight to Mars.

Two people have died in the last year after going on the ride, which spins in a centrifuge that subjects riders to twice the normal force of gravity. Now Disney offers people an option to ride a tamer version of the ride that does not spin.

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