The Thunder River Rapids ride tragedy might have been avoided with a simple safety upgrade.
The Thunder River Rapids ride tragedy might have been avoided with a simple safety upgrade.

Dreamworld inquest: $3k could have stopped tragedy

IN FEBRUARY 2016, nine months before four people were killed on what was once Dreamworld's most popular attraction, the ageing Thunder River Rapids ride was given a $19,000 upgrade.

After the tragedy, a workplace health and safety company completed an expert report, concluding that for an extra few thousand dollars, the lives of Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low might have been spared.

The inquest into the deaths was today shown a report that identified the "primary cause" of the incident, and details of the less than $3000 safety feature that could have addressed it.

A year before the fatal incident, an external engineering and machinery company called Products for Industry (PFI) was hired to upgrade the weathered ride.

Emails and invoices shown at the inquest detailed exactly what the theme park paid for.

Dreamworld first approached PFI in August 2015 about stopping rafts from slipping backwards, to upgrade its main control panel and to modify sensors to check if chains on the conveyor belt were broken.

 

A safety upgrade of the Dreamworld Thunder River Rapids Ride, shown in an undated image, was missing a key measure.
A safety upgrade of the Dreamworld Thunder River Rapids Ride, shown in an undated image, was missing a key measure.

After months of back and forth between the theme park and PFI, those upgrades were finished in February 2016 and Dreamworld paid a little over $19,000 for the work.

Earlier today, the inquest focused on another of Dreamworld's popular attractions, the Log Ride which operated similar to the Thunder River Rapids using water pumps and a conveyor system.

PFI senior engineer Matthew Sullivan told the inquest the company had worked on the Log Ride back in 2013 where the focus of their work was installing a water safety level system at the bottom of the slide.

The system was integral to the ride, because it meant the water level would determine whether the ride would brake and subsequently slow down the log raft. If the water was too low, the raft would keep going.

If there wasn't enough water at the bottom of the log slide, the situation could become "potentially dangerous", Mr Sullivan said.

The system installed by PFI meant that if the water wasn't high enough, sensors would send information to a "programmable logic controller" that would then signal the computer and ride's operating system to immediately shut down the conveyor belt.

While the Log Ride was fitted with this system years ago, when PFI was hired in 2016 to upgrade the Thunder River Rapids ride,the water level issue wasn't raise, and the same system wasn't request by the theme park.

 

The park ordered a safety upgrade of the ride months before the incident, but didn’t raise a crucial issue. Picture: Jason O'Brien/Getty Images
The park ordered a safety upgrade of the ride months before the incident, but didn’t raise a crucial issue. Picture: Jason O'Brien/Getty Images

 

In a damning expert report by Safety Related Control Systems, the company concluded the "primary cause" of the incident was the lack of a suitable safety rated water level detection system added to the upgraded conveyor system.

The report added the water safety level system could "easily" have been provided at a "minimal" cost of $2000 to $3000.

"Had such a water level detection system have been in place it would have brought the conveyor to a safe stop as soon as the water had fallen to a crucial level thereby likely avoiding a collision," the report said.

When questioned if it would've been possible for PFI to install a water safety level system back in February 2016, Mr Sullivan said yes.

Despite that, Mr Sullivan said Dreamworld had never told PFI if was interested in a safe water level system.

In emails, PFI outlined a "stage two" of upgrades to the ride where it would eventually install sensors that would "detect the presence of a raft at the bottom of the conveyor".

If the sensors picked up a raft, the conveyor would shut down - something that didn't happen on October 25, 2016.

In a damning report it was concluded the “primary cause” of the incident was the lack of a suitable safety rated water level detection system. Picture: Nigel Hallett
In a damning report it was concluded the “primary cause” of the incident was the lack of a suitable safety rated water level detection system. Picture: Nigel Hallett

PFI was also questioned about its upgrade to the emergency stop buttons and control panel.

The work completed by PFI started on February 8, 2016 and was completed within a week. It included completely replacing the local motor control panel with a new stainless steel model and replacing the wiring.

The company also upgraded the emergency stop button at the unload area, where people left the rafts.

This button was the only button that could instantaneously bring the conveyor belt to a complete stop.

Inside the operating room, where workers sat at the main control panel, was another emergency stop button.

However that button in the main control panel, although it looked completely the same, did not perform the same function as the one at the unload area instead only stopping a water pump which would not bring the ride to a complete stop.


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