SYDNEY (AFP/REUTERS) - Four people were killed on Tuesday (Oct 25) on a river rapids ride at Australia’s biggest theme park, police said, after a malfunction threw two of the victims off the ride and left the other two trapped inside.
Media broadcast images of crowds of rescue workers at the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast, the main tourist district in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland.
“One of the rides sustained a malfunction, causing two people to be ejected from a ride, and the other two were caught inside the ride,” Mr Gavin Fuller, an official of Queensland Ambulance, told reporters. "They were assessed by Queensland ambulance personnel and had all sustained injuries that were incompatible with life."
The four dead were two men and two women, who ranged in age from their early 30s to their early 40s. It was not immediately clear if they were locals or tourists, the police said.
Dreamworld, which opened in 1981, said in a statement it was “working as quickly as possible to establish the facts around the incident”.
It added: “Dreamworld’s focus and priority is with the families of those involved in this tragedy and will be providing an update to the public as soon as information becomes available.”
Asked if there were any earlier problems with the ride, which carries circular rafts that can accommodate six persons, Mr Todd Reid, an inspector with Queensland Police, said, “I’m not aware, but that will be part of the investigation. “We are now working together with the park to try to determine how this tragic incident occurred.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said there would be a thorough investigation to determine the cause of the accident.
Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate said it was a “very sad day for our city”. “Our thoughts are with the families of those affected – and the emergency staff in attendance... A truly sad day for all,” Mr Tate added on Facebook.
The ride, meant to simulate going over river rapids, uses round floating devices that seat six, and can reach speeds of 45 kmh. It is described by Dreamworld as a “moderate thrill” attraction for those older than two.
Witnesses recounted the scene on television. “There were kids onboard screaming while their mum was trapped under. I’d rather not talk about what I saw,” one unidentified man told Australia’s Channel 9.
Visitors to the theme park, 48km south of Brisbane, said they had seen repairs to the ride before the accident, but a Dreamworld spokesman told Reuters she was unable to confirm the reports.
A witness who was about to go on the ride said “everyone was screaming” after a raft apparently flipped.
“We saw (a) little girl and we believe it was her mum because it was just her and her little sister that was an infant,” Ms Lia Capes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “I was speaking to one of the guys and he said it was the raft or the boat thing in front of him, the whole thing flipped and everyone was screaming.”
Another witness, who did not want to be named, told the Gold Coast Bulletin: “My sister and niece were on the ride, they are so traumatised, there is a woman hanging by her foot, crushed from the ride.”
The Thunder River Rapids ride is described as a family-friendly “white water rafting” experience, where people “travel down a foamy water track past the Gold Rush Country, speeding up to 45 kmh through the turbulent rapids”.
Dreamworld is Australia’s largest theme park, and features what it calls the biggest and fastest thrills rides in the country. It is run by entertainment operator Ardent Leisure Group.
Shares in Ardent Leisure Group dropped 7 per cent in the final hour of trade after the incident, having spent most of the day little changed.
The park will be closed and will remain shut on Wednesday. “Dreamworld will remain closed tomorrow as a mark of respect for the victims and their families,” Ardent said in a statement, adding that it was working with emergency services to establish what had happened.
Tuesday’s tragedy ranks among the world’s deadliest theme park accidents.
Earlier incidents include eight teenagers killed in a 1984 fire at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey in the United States; six people killed by a failed simulated rocket launch in Shenzhen, China, in 2010 and five children killed when the Battersea Park Big Dipper malfunctioned in Britain in 1972.