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KANSAS CITY Kan. (Reuters) - The world's tallest water slide opened Thursday to the shrieks of riders who traveled in some cases hundreds of miles to plunge at up to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) down what a Kansas water park calls "Verruckt," the German word for insane.
"Awesome, it felt like we were in the air the whole time," Nick Reeves, 14, the front-seat passenger for the public's first ride on the slide, said after taking the plunge.
Reeves said he, his twin brother, Chris, and father, Troy Reeves, made the trek from Arizona to take the ride.
Verruckt stands 168 feet 7 inches (51.4 meters) high, towering over the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and rivaling the height of Niagara Falls. Taller than the Statue of Liberty, from toe to torch, the climb to the top is 264 steps.
Riders are strapped into a raft that has room for three people and dives 17 stories in a near vertical descent before getting propelled back up five stories by rushing water and plunging a second time to its end.
The descent takes 15 to 20 seconds.
"It was breathtaking," said Paige Rife, 17, of Olathe, Kansas. "It was actually steeper than I thought. I screamed all the way down."
The slide is nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) taller than the previous record holder, a slide in Rio de Janeiro called Mount Kilimanjaro, the Guinness Book of World Records said on its website.
Operators postponed the opening of the Kansas City, Kansas, slide three times to ensure safety.
Several riders said the raft felt like it traveled above the rushing water. Ride designer John Schooley said, however, the raft touches water the entire trip down the fiberglass slide.
Riders must be at least 54 inches (137 cm) tall to take the plunge and are weighed to make sure rafts are run with a combined weight of 400 pounds to 550 pounds (181 to 249 kg).
A net surrounds the slide on its descent, not out of concern that riders could fly out, but so they won't try to climb out if the raft stops for some reason, Schooley said.
A sign warns people they should ride Verruckt only if they are in good physical and mental condition. Riders said it felt safe, if a bit scary.
"Insane is a good name for it," said Mike Van Elsen of Kansas City.
Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by David Bailey and Eric Beech