17-year-old girl involved in rollercoaster crash has her leg amputated

Crash: Leah Washington was one of four people seriously injured
Crash: Leah Washington was one of four people seriously injured

The family of a 17-year-old girl injured in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers have thanked medics for saving her life after she was forced to have one of her legs amputated.

Leah Washington was one of four people seriously hurt last week when two carriages collided on the Smiler ride.

Doctors have confirmed that the teenager, from Barnsley in South Yorkshire, has had her left leg amputated above the knee and suffered a fractured hand in the incident.

Leah's boyfriend, 18-year-old Joe Pugh, was treated for two broken knees and extensive hand injuries, University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust said.

Alton Towers, which opened today for the first time since Tuesday's crash, said it was "deeply saddened" by news of Leah's injuries and insisted it would provide "full support" for all 16 people who were hurt.

In a statement issued by the hospital, Leah's father David Washington said: "We would like to thank our family and friends and all the well-wishers for their support.

"Leah has suffered a life-changing injury and now has many months of rehabilitation ahead of her.

"We have done this to put people's minds at rest and we would also ask everyone to respect Leah's privacy as she undergoes this rehabilitation.

"We would like to thank all the emergency services at the scene and all the hospital staff who saved Leah's life."

Leah, her boyfriend Mr Pugh, 27-year-old old hotel assistant manager Daniel Thorpe from Buxton in Derbyshire, and 20-year-old Vicky Balch, from Leyland in Lancashire, have been described as the most seriously injured.

Ms Balch suffered potentially life-changing injuries in the crash, and is expected to make a "substantial claim for damages" to support her recovery, her solicitor said last week.

The four are being treated at the Royal Stoke University Hospital and the University Hospital Coventry.

A spokesman for the University Hospital Coventry declined to comment on Mr Thorpe's condition, while Ms Balch's solicitor said there was no update on her recovery.

Mr Pugh's father Simon said: "I would like to thank our friends and family for their support.

"We would also like to thank the staff at the hospital who have been very accommodating, have been lovely to us and have protected our privacy.

"We would ask people to respect Joe's privacy now and over the weeks and months ahead."

An Alton Towers spokeswoman said: "We are deeply saddened by Leah's news, and all our thoughts are with her and her family.

"We have made contact with all the families and have assured them that we will provide full support to all of those involved now, and throughout their recovery and rehabilitation."

Witnesses reported that people on the ride spent around four hours waiting to be rescued as emergency crews were faced with the delicate task of safely reaching the bloodied passengers, stranded 25ft in the air at an angle of about 45 degrees.

One man who was on the ride when it crashed described the moment he "held on for dear life" as the carriages collided, before he saw blood dripping from an injured woman in front of him.

The man, who gave his name only as Oli, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, told Heart North West radio station: "A lot of people were coming to the side of the barrier and the people in front were screaming 'Get some help, get some help'.

"There was a lot of blood coming from the carriage in front. It was dripping all over the floor. There was quite a lot of blood coming from them.

"I thought (it was) the guy in front of me. I saw at some point he had cut his face, but it was actually coming from the girl next to him who had the severely-damaged leg."

The X-Sector of Alton Towers - which houses The Smiler - will remain closed until further notice to allow the Health and Safety Executive access to the ride for investigations.

The Spinball ride will also be closed at the Staffordshire theme park until enhanced safety protocols have been implemented, but Merlin Entertainments said this would take slightly longer than it had hoped due to the design of the ride.

Three rides at other Merlin Entertainments parks, Thorpe Park, and Chessington World of Adventures - both in Surrey - will also remain closed until new safety protocols can be implemented. But these are expected to reopen soon.

Merlin is thought to have racked up losses of around £500,000 a day since the incident and it has also faced accusations that staff dithered for 10 minutes before making the first 999 call, despite screams of distress from bloodied passengers on board The Smiler.

Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments, said the incident was a "terrible event" for everyone involved.

He said: "We are very aware of the impact it will have on those involved and we are doing all we can to provide our support to those injured and their families."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has removed the carriages involved in the crash and taken them to the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton for further analysis.

Another passenger on the ride reportedly had surgery to her stomach after suffering internal bleeding in the crash.

Chanda Singh, 49, from Wednesbury, West Midlands, was sitting in the second row of The Smiler with her daughters Meera, 26, and Vanisha, 29, the BBC said.

Meera told the BBC that the family returned home in a taxi after the crash before going to Manor Hospital in Walsall, where her mother had surgery to her stomach and is receiving treatment for a damaged liver and blood clots.