I posted a couple of times last year, but I was at the park yesterday and just wanted to mention my experience of the day.
I got to the park at 10am on the dot and went straight to The Smiler, I joined the single rider queue and as I was walking through they were already making announcements that there were technical difficulties. It was raining and windy so I think they were having issues.
I waited briefly and then they loaded us onto the cars, I was on the second row from the back and off we went. We got out of the station and came to a sudden halt before even leaving the underground area for the first lift hill (please forgive me if I don't have all the correct terms, I don't know the names of all the sections!). We sat there for a couple minutes, then all the lights went out and they started announcing that they were experiencing technical difficulties (I can't remember if they said it was due to the weather) and the ride had ceased operation. I didn't think anything of it at the time as I've been on Smiler several times over the last 2 years and know it can get stuck, I've just never been on it when it's happened!
Now here is where I wonder if my experience was unusual. After a few more minutes they made a specific announcement directed at us (they called for the attention of the people stopped before the first lift hill), saying that they were going to put a test car in motion which was going to come up behind us, and not to worry as this was a standard procedure (the might have said test procedure or reset, but I can't be sure). All of us were a bit confused, people started discussing if it going to bump us forward to get us moving, would it hit us, would it stop?... etc. We didn't know what the announcement meant.
A couple minutes later the empty car appeared from behind us, I'm assuming from out of the station but it just slowed to a halt behind us, I have no idea what the purpose was. Not long after that everything booted up again and off we went. We did stop for another few minutes before the second lift hill, and then got stopped again at the end of the ride on the outside section before the station. We saw the empty car going around after us, and I felt like I was on there for a good 15 minutes.
I have no idea if this is anything unusual, but the mention of another test car and it possibly being overlooked just hit a nerve with me after I realised they had launched another car behind us. Probably nothing, but I was interested to hear other opinions as I don't know enough to comment!
My thoughts are with the riders who were on there, it's awful. I had just left Sonic when the Air Ambulance appeared out of no where. It's weird because my first reaction to my friends was "It can't be a ride, someone must have collapsed or something". Never in a million years did it even enter my head that it could be a ride issue. When we saw X Sector blocked off on our way to Hex we thought someone might have collapsed in there. There was no information given in the park so I found out on Twitter as the staff weren't allowed to tell anyone what happened. It was quick a shock, we went on Hex after that not knowing how serious the incident had been until we came off and my phone had gone nuts with people checking on me.
We had been planning to go for a walk around the Towers too as we'd done all the rides we wanted, but they got closed. I'm assuming there's a potential viewing area where you could see X Sector, but I don't know as I've never been. It was a very surreal and sad day, and I hope both the victims and Alton Towers recover from this. The park felt very quiet in the aftermath, until we were leaving after 5 and saw all the crowds by Towers Street watching the Air Ambulances.
Sorry for such a long post!