The company that owns an Australian theme park where four people died on a river rapids ride is pleading guilty to charges stemming from the 2016 tragedy, a lawyer said today.
Four people died in the Dreamworld park on Queensland state's Gold Coast when their raft flipped on the Thunder River Rapids ride in October 25, 2016.
New Zealander Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi were killed. A 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl on the ride managed to escape.
Ardent Leisure Group has been charged under workplace safety laws with failing to comply with its health and safety duty and exposing individuals to a risk of serious injury or death.
But Dreamworld executives responsible for the park's safety avoided individual prosecution.
Ardent's lawyer Bruce Hodgkinson told a Gold Coast court on Wednesday that the Sydney-based company, which also owns assets in the United States and New Zealand, will plead guilty to all three charges. Each charge carried a potential maximum fine of A$1.5 million or A$4.5m ($4.8m) total.
A sentencing hearing will begin on September 28.
A coroner's report that was referred to by prosecutors cited a "systemic failure" in safety at Dreamworld with "frighteningly unsophisticated" procedures and a failure to provide the training and supervision necessary to protect people from risk.
It said no thorough engineering risk assessment had been done on the Thunder River Rapids ride in the 30 years it was open to the public.
Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi were killed when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned in 2016.
Three of the four victims were flung instantly into a mechanised conveyor when their raft collided with another and partially flipped on October 25. A crucial delay in manually stopping the ride caused the jammed raft to shake, plunging a fourth person into the machinery.
The inquest heard the malfunction was the third that day and the fifth in a week.
Inexperienced staff panicked, sending out a radio call stating there was a "raft in the conveyor" — the first indication something disastrous had happened, the inquest heard.
Despite the efforts of paramedics, the four had no chance of survival. Goodchild's 12-year-old daughter and Low's 10-year-old son survived the incident.
The wide-ranging inquest, which opened in June 2018, revealed a "litany of problems" with some experts declaring the tragedy was an "accident waiting to happen".
Dreamworld's training systems were heavily criticised, with revelations staff operating the ride on the day of the disaster were given just 90 minutes of training.
A memo sent to staff days before the tragedy warned the emergency stop button should not be pushed.
To cut costs, Dreamworld also stopped spending money on repairs and maintenance in the months before the fatal accident.
The coroner's report
In February this year, Coroner James McDougall delivered his scathing assessment of the "total" and "systemic" safety failures at the park, referring Ardent Leisure to the Office of Industrial Relations to consider proceeding with charges.
"I find that shoddy record keeping was a significant contributor to this incident," he said.
"Failure to record the changes have contributed to the masking of the real risk of the (ride)."
He said the ride was completely unsafe when the tragedy occurred, with safety procedures described as "unsophisticated" and "rudimentary at best".
"It was simply a matter of time. That time came on October 25 (2016)," McDougall said.
In addition, McDougall said the responsibilities placed on staff to operate the stressful ride and supervise others were "clearly unreasonable and excessive".
He described the ride as "complex, confusing" and lacking "required labelling".
Police recommended no criminal charges against Dreamworld staff over the fatal incident.
"It is reasonably suspected that Ardent Leisure may have committed an offence under workplace law," McDougall told the Brisbane Magistrates Court in February as he handed down nearly his nearly 300-page report.
The six-week inquest wrapped up in December 2018.
In response to the findings, Ardent Leisure committed to implementing the coroner's recommendations and improving its safety practices, and said Dreamworld would construct a memorial garden to honour and pay respect to the victims.
Last month the company was served with a shareholder class action over the tragedy, alleging contraventions of the corporations act.
Ardent Leisure said it strongly denied any contraventions and described the action as "without merit", saying it intended to "vigorously defend the proceedings".