Australian forensic police were examining a river rapids ride at the country’s biggest theme park on Wednesday where four people were trapped beneath an upturned raft and killed.
Tuesday’s tragedy at the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast in the state of Queensland ranks among the world’s deadliest theme park accidents.
The ride, meant to simulate going over river rapids, uses round floating devices that seat six and can reach speeds of 45kph. It is described by Dreamworld as a “moderate thrill” attraction for those older than two.
A collision between two rafts flipped one, throwing free two children, aged 10 and 13, and trapping four adults beneath it, Queensland assistant police commissioner Brian Codd told reporters on the Gold Coast. He said the adults became caught in the ride’s conveyor-belt machinery.
Police have called for witnesses to the accident to come forward.
The victims, two men aged 33 and 38 and two women aged 32 and 42, all lived in Australia, police said. The New Zealand government confirmed one was a New Zealand citizen. Two children on the ride were being treated for injuries in hospital.
Police have not yet confirmed the relationship of the children to any of the adults.
Their deaths follow a similar accident at Dreamworld in April, when a 19-year-old man was seriously hurt after falling from another water ride.
Forensic police and workplace safety authorities were checking CCTV footage and will prepare a report for the state coroner, who will then decide if any charges should be laid. The park will remain closed indefinitely, its operators said.
The Australian Workers Union (AWU) said it had raised “grave concerns” about safety at the theme park with authorities and the park operator as early as April 2015.
“There is a very persistent and long process of representation by my union to Dreamworld and to the division of workplace health and safety around safety issues at Dreamworld,” AWU state secretary Ben Swan told Reuters.
Asked on Tuesday whether there were any earlier problems with the ride, Tod Reid, an inspector with Queensland Police, said: “I’m not aware, but that will be part of the investigation.”
Dreamworld’s chief executive Craig Davidson, offered condolences on Wednesday and laid flowers at the theme park, which is closed indefinitely.
Shares in park owner and operator, Ardent Leisure Group , plunged 21 per cent at the open on Wednesday, adding to a 7 per cent fall in the final hour of trading on Tuesday after the accident. By the close of trade the stock had pared some losses to finish 14.9 per cent lower while the broader Australian S&P/ASX 200 index fell 1.53 per cent.