Dreamworld rides 'months' overdue for inspection
MAJOR rides at Dreamworld, including the Thunder River Rapids Ride, were nine months overdue for safety inspection and government registration at the time of a fatal tragedy at the theme park, an inquest has heard.
An inquest into the October 2016 deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi on the 30-year-old ride has entered its second week at the Southport Coroners Court.
On Monday, the inquest heard that Queensland government registration of the park's rides was due for renewal in January 2016.
After discovering their in-house engineering team did not meet the government requirements to perform the safety inspections, Dreamworld asked for and was granted an extension until September 30, 2016.
Dreamworld's former health and safety manager Mark Thompson, who began in his role in March 2016, was then forced to ask for a further extension from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) on September 29 as the park's "Big Nine" rides were yet to be inspected.
The further extension was granted giving Dreamworld until December 2016 to provide the safety inspection reports.
An email from Mr Thompson to a WHSQ employee stated the park had been "let down" by an external inspector they had appointed for the park's major rides including the Thunder River Rapids ride.
Mr Thompson also told the inquest the staff he relied on were "green" when it came to dealing with safety matters.
He said the park relied on staff members who'd received "in-house" training to notify him of safety issues within the park.
"They were the park's eyes and ears, absolutely," he said.
Mr Thompson said the safety officers would often be called away to perform first aid or other duties, meaning he provided mainly a reactive and not proactive security service.
"They were lovely people but green on the front-line ... they didn't have the experience to deal with health and safety work," he said.
He added of the 14 people on the park's executive safety committee only two had formal safety qualifications and he would have needed a team of six to properly deal with workplace health and safety at Dreamworld.
"There was only one of me," he said.
Mr Thompson said he'd not been made aware personally of any workplace health and safety issues on the Thunder River Rapids ride.
Earlier engineer Kamlesh Prasad, who inspected the ride on October 25, 2016, told the inquest he didn't know an emergency stop button located near the ride's unload area stopped the conveyor belt more quickly than the other emergency stop button on the main control panel.
The inquest has already heard there was about six seconds difference in the stopping time effected by the two buttons.
Earlier it was reported that Dreamworld could face a history-making compensation payout for the devastated families in the Thunder River Rapids tragedy - as well as the park guests and staff who witnessed it.
In what has the potential to be the country's largest ever compensation payout over the fatal ride malfunction, the theme park's possible lawsuits could run into the millions.
Distraught relatives have laid the blame for their loved ones' deaths solely on the Gold Coast theme park.
In a dramatic conclusion to the first week of an inquest into the deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi, relatives of two victims spoke of how the event has "throttled" their family.
Lawyers said Dreamworld could not only be sued by the families but also by traumatised patrons and staff because it breached its duty of care.
Both Roger Singh, national special counsel with Shine Lawyers, and Bill Potts from Potts Lawyers, told media they would expect the claims to run into the many millions.
"Damages do not bring back human life but they are a method by which Dreamworld and a number of organisations, can be effectively taught that this type of negligence causing death cannot be allowed to occur," Mr Potts told Nine News.
In a statement released to media through their barrister Steven Whybrow on Friday, Shane Goodchild, the father of Ms Goodchild and Mr Dorsett, and Dave Turner, Ms Goodchild's husband, expressed their anger at the tourist attraction.
"We are tired and devastated and horrified by the evidence that has come out this week," the statement said.
"We hold Dreamworld totally responsible for this tragic event that could have so easily been avoided. It has throttled our family."
Mr Turner and Mr Goodchild were among several relatives to attend the first five days of the inquest during which it was revealed the 30-year-old ride malfunctioned twice before the fatal incident on October 25, 2016.
The four holiday-makers died when a raft they were travelling in collided with another raft stranded on a conveyor belt when a water pump failed and the water levels in the attraction dropped significantly.
Ms Goodchild's 12-year-old daughter and Ms Low's 10-year-old son survived the tragedy.
Dreamworld chief executive Craig Davidson said the park was "truly sorry" for the tragedy.
"We understand that this has been a harrowing week for them and that they are devastated and horrified," Mr Davidson said in a statement.
"We share those feelings. We are truly sorry this happened.
"It is our aim to assist the coroner as best we can to help understand how this tragedy occurred, and what we can do to ensure it never happens again."
On Friday an engineer who worked on the ride that day told the inquest he had mistakenly believed it was park policy to shut down a ride after three malfunctions in a 24-hour period.
The Dreamworld breakdown procedure states a ride should be shut down until given the all-clear by an engineering supervisor after two malfunctions inside 24 hours.
"Prior to that day I had a different understanding on how to proceed with a breakdown," engineer Matthew Robertson told the inquest.
"On the third breakdown I was to advise a supervisor and not progress further."
The inquest also heard an incident in November 2014 similar to the fatal one had resulted in a staff member being dismissed.
Dreamworld employee Chloe Brix was questioned about the termination by Mr Whybrow, saying she only knew it related to a "safety issue" due to "gossip" among staff.
No one was harmed in the 2014 incident.
Mr Singh said family members could claim losses as well as damages for nervous shock and that patrons and staff who witnessed the tragedy could also potentially make sizeable claims for psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress.
But Mr Singh said time limits on compensation claims meant they normally had to be lodged within three years of an incident.
The inquest resumes on Monday with more Dreamworld staff expected to give evidence.
Among the witnesses expected to give evidence this week are senior staff who trained ride operators, as well as the engineers who were supposed to ensure all rides are safe.
The inquest will then adjourn on Friday, with the final two weeks to be heard later in the year.