A junior ride operator at Dreamworld has told an inquest she felt “pressured” by a senior park manager not to speak to police after the Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy in which four people were killed.
Courtney Williams was one of two people running the ride at the theme park at Upper Coomera when two rafts collided and the group was thrown to their deaths.
Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low died following the ride malfunction and crash in October 2016.
Ms Williams told the inquest she was instructed by a senior park manager at Dreamworld not to speak to police after the tragedy, but said she later gave a statement to officers at a station.
“So he told you not to say anything to anyone, don’t give any statements and just to wait over near the side? Is that correct?” Barrister Toby Nielsen for the Araghi family asked Ms Williams.
“Yes,” Ms Williams replied.
“Did you feel under pressure not to talk to police?” Mr Nielsen asked.
“Yes,” Ms Williams replied.
Earlier she told the court, she only had about “an hour and a half” of training before she commenced her shift on the day of the deaths.
Ms Williams said she arrived for her shift at 9:15am on October 25, 2016, and was told she was rostered as a level two operator.
She said she had not performed that role before and was given “about an hour and a half” of training.
Operator ‘didn’t know’ emergency button would stop ride
Ms Williams told the inquest she did not remember being shown how to shut down the ride and said she was told by a trainer about the emergency stop button who said, “Don’t worry about it, you don’t need to use it”.
She said she “didn’t know” the emergency button would stop the conveyor from moving.
“It was my first day. I wasn’t confident operating the control panel,” Ms Williams said.
“I could press them if I was comfortable and confident to do so … however I was not.”
She told the inquest she did not believe she had “sufficient training on parts I now know I should have”.
She testified she thought the ride would shut down automatically if the large water pumps feeding the ride failed.
Ms Williams said she was never told by supervisors that there had been issues with the water pumps on the ride previously, but had heard about issues through general conversations at work.
She said she had her back to the conveyor and noticed her colleague Peter Nemeth’s facial expression change and realised something was wrong.
“I heard noises behind me … and that’s when I saw the raft coming down,” Ms Williams said.
“Did you think about using the e-stop?” Counsel assisting the coroner, Rhiannon Helsen asked.
“I had completely forgotten about the e-stop,” Ms Williams replied.
Under cross-examination by barrister Matthew Hickey for Cindy Low’s family, Ms Williams was asked what she would have done if she had known the emergency stop, within reach of her, halted the conveyor within two seconds.
“I would have waited for my senior operator to tell me to press it,” Ms Williams said.
She testified she had never had any emergency, rescue, first aid or CPR training at Dreamworld and had only participated in fire drills.
“Were you ever asked by supervisors if you thought training was satisfactory?” Mr Hickey asked.
“I was never asked, no,” Ms Williams replied.
She also told the court the day of the fatalities was the last day of her employment at Dreamworld.
‘Impossible’ to manage responsibilities: senior operator
Earlier, the senior ride operator Peter Nemeth told the inquest it was “impossible” to manage all of the responsibilities required of him while loading a new raft, with 36 checks required in less than a minute.
The court heard the level-three ride operator had to supervise his less experienced colleague, ensure seatbelts were secure on guests, monitor visitor lines, monitor raft movements, watch the conveyor, watch the large water pumps, ensure there were no obstructions on the ride and tell people to “smile” for the camera, among other tasks.
“I suggest … it is impossible for a … human being to do all of those things within less than a minute?” Mr Hickey asked.
Mr Nemeth replied: “Yes, I agree.”
The court heard Mr Nemeth was never trained to deal with potential “catastrophic” events at the theme park.
Hickey: Were you trained in first aid?
Hickey: Were you trained in CPR?
Hickey: Were you trained in any way to rescue passengers who might become trapped in the ride?
Barrister Steven Whybrow, acting on behalf of the family of Ms Goodchild and Mr Dorsett, told Mr Nemeth “as far as they are concerned, I have been instructed to tell you that they don’t hold you in the least bit responsible for what happened that day”.
The court heard about six months prior to the fatal incident someone was “skylarking” and fell out of the log ride at Dreamworld and into the water.
Mr Whybrow said the operators were not aware of the incident until the log came back empty.
Mr Nemeth also operated the log ride on some shifts and told the inquest he recalled more CCTV cameras being installed after the incident.
Operator ‘can’t comment’ on whether he hit wrong button
During cross-examination, barrister Toby Nielsen for the Araghi family suggested Mr Nemeth hit a slow stop button for the conveyor 10 seconds after the two rafts had collided, which the operator denied.
Mr Nemeth testified he hit the button before the crash occurred.
“Is it possible you hit the wrong buttons in a panic?” Mr Nielsen asked.
“I can’t comment on that,” Mr Nemeth replied.
Under cross-examination by barrister James Bell for Ardent Leisure, Mr Nemeth was questioned about his training as a level-three operator.
The court heard the ride operator completed one full day of training with an instructor, who then returned on the second day to supervise him opening and closing the ride.
“Did you feel comfortable? You had no further questions?” Mr Bell asked.
“Yes,” Mr Nemeth replied.
He told the court he had access to supervisors at any time and felt comfortable approaching them.