GOLD COAST – Four people have died after becoming trapped when a raft flipped on a family ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast.
The victims, two men and two women, became trapped on a conveyor belt at the theme park after their raft flipped on the Thunder River Rapids ride on Tuesday afternoon.
Two of the victims were thrown clear of the ride while the other two were stuck in the ride itself.
Queensland police said the four victims died on the Thunder River Rapids ride at the Dreamworld park, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull extended his prayers to their families over what he called a “very, very, sad, tragic event”.
“Four adult persons have lost their lives as a result of the incident,” Queensland Police spokesman Todd Reid told reporters on the Gold Coast.
Queensland Ambulance official Gavin Fuller said the victims were two men and two women, aged between 32 and their early 40s. Their names and nationalities were not revealed.
“Police were called to the site at Coomera around 2.20pm following reports that a number of people had been injured by a conveyor belt,” a statement from the Queensland Police confirmed.
The ride, which carries circular rafts that can accommodate six persons, “sustained some sort of malfunction, causing two people to be ejected from the ride, another two people were caught inside the ride”, Fuller said.
The Gold Coast Bulletin newspaper reported that water was drained from the attraction in an effort to save trapped victims, but to no avail.
An earlier media statement from Dreamworld said there were three fatalities.
“Dreamworld is working as quickly as possible to establish the facts around the incident and is working closely with emergency authorities and police to do this,” the media statement added.
“Dreamworld’s focus and priority is with the families of those involved in this tragedy and will be providing an update to the public as soon as information becomes available.”
The park was closed and will remain shut Wednesday.
‘EVERYONE WAS SCREAMING’
A witness who was about to go on the ride said “everyone was screaming” after a raft apparently flipped.
“We saw (a) little girl and we believe it was her mum because it was just her and her little sister that was an infant,” Lia Capes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I was speaking to one of the guys and he said it was the raft or the boat thing in front of him, the whole thing flipped and everyone was screaming.”
Another witness, who did not want to be named, told the Gold Coast Bulletin: “My sister and niece were on the ride, they are so traumatised, there is a woman hanging by her foot, crushed from the ride.”
Australian premier Turnbull said it was a “very sad day” and vowed a thorough investigation into the accident.
“Theme parks are a place for family fun and happiness, not tragedy. This is a very, very, sad, tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives,” he said.
Gold Coast mayor Tom Tate said it was a “very sad day for our city“.
“Our thoughts are with the families of those affected – and the emergency staff in attendance… A truly sad day for all,” Tate added on Facebook.
The Thunder River Rapids ride is promoted as a family-friendly “white water rafting” experience, where people “travel down a foamy water track past the Gold Rush Country, speeding up to 45 kph through the turbulent rapids”.
Dreamworld is Australia’s largest theme park, and features what it calls the biggest and fastest thrills rides in the country. It is run by entertainment operator Ardent Leisure Group.