When you climb onto a thrill ride at an amusement park, the last thing you will think about is whether your safety will be compromised. Now spare a thought for the loved ones of the four people who lost their lives in Dreamworld last month. We look at what caused the accident, and its potential repercussions.

The business model of theme parks is a simple one: offer customers a safe way to experience thrill, and charge them money for it. The most important part of this model is the safety. Customers must at all times trust you that you will keep them safe. Even if there is a small chance of things going wrong, they will not take the risk.

What happens, then, when four people die in a tragic accident on one of your rides?

This is what happened on 25 October, 2016, a regular Tuesday if you saw the long rides at Dreamworld, Queensland, and kids milling about food stalls and families clambering on to this ride or that.

One of the most famous rides at Dreamworld is one called Thunder River Rapids Ride, which is considered one of the safest rides at the park. But when an empty raft got stuck and barged into the way of another raft containing six people, it caused the second raft to flip back on itself, thus crushing four of the occupants underneath and killing them on the spot.

Once the shock of the incident had worn out, and the outpouring of grief had come and gone, it was time to ask the all important question: how? How did it happen that a theme park could allow such an incident to happen under its watch? What is the reason for this incident? Human error or an engineering malfunction?

Right now, it seems that it’s a combination of engineering, mechanical and human failures that caused the accident. According to Dr David Eager, who represents Engineering Australia on the Amusement Rides and Devices Standards Committee, this is likely a problem with a malfunctioning limit switch, a sensor-like device responsible for maintaining distance between rafts.

A new limit switch, in a further twist of irony, would have cost the amusement park a couple of hundred dollars.

However, it must be stressed that these causes of accidents are more easily visible in hindsight than before the fact. Often it’s not just one straw that breaks a camel’s back but two or three which are unconnected.

Dreamworld has come under further scrutiny when the shareholders voted to allow the company’s CEO, Deborah Thomas, to keep her four-year bonus of $485,000 in the wake of the tragedy. However, Ms Thomas pledged that the cash component of the bonus (about $165,000) will be given in charity to Red Cross.

Some are seeing this gesture as an admission of guilt.

Right now, Dreamworld is closed until further notice while police and other authorities carry out their investigations. This has sent a ripple through the entertainment business in Queensland, where hotels are now giving deep discounts to lure back suspicious tourists.

It might still be a while before Queensland recovers from this tragic jolt.


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