CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The company that owns an Australian theme park where four people died on a river rapids ride defended its safety record on Thursday as police vetoed plans to reopen to the public three days after the tragedy.
Dreamworld park on Queensland state’s Gold Coast has been closed as a crime scene since two men and two women died on Tuesday when their raft flipped on the 30-year-old Thunder River Rapids ride.
Neil Balnaves, chairman of Ardent Leisure Group that owns Dreamworld as well as bowling and billiards centers across Australia, the United States and New Zealand, told the company’s annual general meeting on Thursday that the ride had passed its annual safety inspection a month ago.
“That’s what confounds the tragedy even more for us, because it is … absolutely surprising that a ride could get through that process and everything up to date,” Balnaves said.
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“The park does not take its safety as a casual issue,” he said, adding that the company uses international experts to set up the program.
A union has accused management of ignoring safety concerns raised by staff over years.
Dreamworld announced on Wednesday that it plans to reopen with a memorial day and a service for the victims on Friday. Profits would be donated to charity and activities limited to smaller rides, animal attractions, and the water park. Balnaves told the meeting that operations would return to normal from Saturday, although the Thunder River Rapids ride would remain closed until a coroner’s inquiry reported on the cause of the tragedy.
Dreamworld later said the Queensland Police Service had advised that the park could not reopen this week.
Police had warned that investigators were not prepared to risk the crime scene being compromised through the park being reopened too early. Police have said the investigation could end in charges of criminal negligence.
Ardent chief executive Deborah Thomas said she planned to contact the victims’ families to express her sympathies and other financial assistance.
“I take my family to Dreamworld. This could have been my family and I completely am sympathetic to what they must be going through,” she said.
She told the meeting that the revenue lost due to the tragedy would have a “significant impact” on Dreamworld profits for the remainder of the fiscal year, which began on July 1.
Balnaves told the meeting he expected the tragedy would continue to have a financial impact in the next fiscal year, but would not affect company assets other than Dreamworld.