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Ardent Leisure fined $3.6 million over 2016 Dreamworld deaths
Ardent Leisure has been fined $3.6 million over the deaths of four people on the Thunder River Rapids ride at Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld in 2016.
Having, in July, pleaded guilty to three charges relating to the deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi in October 2016, Ardent Leisure was yesterday fined in the Southport Magistrates Court - being given a month to pay the penalty.
Ardent Leisure admitted three counts of Failure to Comply with Health and Safety Duty, Category 2, under the Queensland Health and Safety Act, exposing individuals to a risk of serious injury or death.
This followed the findings of a Coronial inquest into the four deaths, released earlier this year, which showed a series of failures at the theme park, including safety and maintenance systems that the Coroner described as "rudimentary at best" and "frighteningly unsophisticated".
The incident occurred when a pump on the ride malfunctioned, causing water levels to fall dangerously low. The tragedy unfolded as the raft on which the victims were seated - along with two children, Ebony Turner and Kieran Low, then aged 10 and 12 - collided three times with another that was stranded on the conveyor belt in low water.
Queensland Workplace Health and Safety prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle told the Court that the stranded raft was lifted vertically before it dropped to a horizontal position with the continued movement of the conveyor pulling the doomed raft into the mechanism.
Guilfoyle advised that “it ripped pieces of fibreglass from the raft which shook violently causing Ms Goodchild and Mr Dorsett to fall.
“Ms Turner was held dangling in her seat by the velcro seatbelt and Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low seated at the rear of the raft were pulled into the moving components.”
Guilfoyle told the Court that while the pump failure was the direct cause of the accident, there were other factors to be considered.
He outlined a litany of failures to adequately ensure the Thunder River Rapids ride was operated safely including poor maintenance and inadequate shutdown procedures.
Previous safety audits revealed a water level safety sensor which could have prevented the accident would have cost less than $3,000.
Ardent Leisure also failed to provide information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to protect people from risk.
The pump malfunction was the third that day and the fifth in a week, and no automated shutdown function was installed despite recommendations.
Guilfoyle added “the ride had been in operation for 30 years, the pumps were bound to fail at some point
“There were failures to implement the control measures which would have minimised or eliminated the risk in the circumstances of a pump failure.
“They are as much the cause as the pump failure.”
Guilfoyle recommended Magistrate Pamela Dowse heavily penalise Ardent Leisure, and that a conviction be recorded, stating “the failures of the defendant were not momentary.
"The failures did not occur solely on the day of the incident, they were failures well before then, which led ultimately to what transpired.
"This is a rare case in which a penalty close to the available maximum is appropriate."
Magistrate Dowse said the company had failed in its primary safety duty to the public, finding that the company knew of the risk of pump failure and the risk of rafts overturning before the accident.
She advised “complete and blind trust (was) placed in the defendant by every person who rode the Thunder River Rapids ride and those guests were extremely vulnerable.”
Victims Impact Statements
Earlier on Monday, the Court heard emotional victims impact statements from the family of victims, including a teenager who saw her mother and two uncles killed on the ride.
Ebony Turner was 12 when she witnessed the deadly accident on the Thunder River Rapids Ride in 2016.
As reported by the ABC, the teenager has been accompanied by her grandmother, Kim Dorsett, the mother of ride victims Kate Goodchild and Luke Dorsett.
Kim Dorsett gave a victim impact statement at yesterday morning’s sentencing, recounting the moment when she saw her granddaughter Ebony after being told about the tragedy.
Kim Dorsett told the Court "Ebony had survived the accident and was hysterical trying to tell of the events that had taken place that afternoon.
"'I couldn't find Mummy’.
"These words have become a recurring nightmare, words that will be with me until I too take my last breath."
Ardent Leisure's legal representative, Bruce Hodgkinson SC told the court the company did not dispute the facts presented by Guilfoyle, opening his submissions with an apology.
Hodgkinson told the Court "Ardent apologises for the terrible tragedy which occurred.
"Ardent apologises unreservedly to the family and friends of Roozi Araghi, Luke Dorsett, Kate Goodchild and Cindy Low for the past failures of Dreamworld as identified by this prosecution.
"Ardent expresses its deepest sympathies to the immediate and extended families for their enormous loss and ongoing suffering.
"Ardent also apologises to all those who have been so deeply impacted by this tragedy: first responders, bystanders, Queensland police and ambulance services, Dreamworld staff and many other people involved who have been affected.”
Hodgkinson said since the tragedy, Ardent Leisure had been working with cross-industry experts to bring Dreamworld's safety and systems up to world standards.
He said this included comprehensive engineering reviews, situational emergency training on a planned and ad-hoc basis for staff, and the development of new safety regulations for theme parks with the Queensland Government.
In a statement issued after the fine, Ardent Leisure Chairman Gary Weiss and Chief Executive John Osborne said they accepted the Court's decision to impose "the largest fine in Queensland history for a workplace tragedy".
The statement advised "Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy without qualification or reservation.
"The majority of families, first responders and others impacted by the tragedy have received compensation.”
Responding to claims by Ebony Turner's grandfather Shayne Goodchild that she had not been compensated, the statement continued “the Ardent board has, and continues to, press for the expeditious resolution of the remaining claims noting that, in the case of compensation for minors, the Court's approval is required before compensation can be finalised.”
In early August, Ardent Leisure benefitted from a $70 million financial assistance package from the Queensland Government.
Images: Dreamworld's Thunder River Rapids ride in operation prior to the 2016 tragedy (top) and (below, from left) victims Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low.
23rd September 2020 - Dreamworld and WhiteWater World reveal successful operational restart
17th September 2020 - Dreamworld and WhiteWater World reopen for holiday and summer seasons
14th August 2020 - Ardent Leisure to reopen Dreamworld on 16th September
29th July 2020 - Ardent Leisure pleads guilty over 2016 Dreamworld ride deaths
10th July 2020 - Coronavirus impact sees Dreamworld make 50 positions redundant
25th February 2020 - Ardent Leisure shares fall after critical Coroner’s report into Dreamworld tragedy
8th February 2020 - Dreamworld permanently closes Rocky Hollow Log Ride
7th February 2020 - Dreamworld enjoys successful peak season
21st December 2019 - New waterslides open at Dreamworld’s WhiteWater World
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