Australian theme park 'will do everything' to support victims' families
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Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Deborah Thomas (L) of Australia's Ardent Leisure Group, the owner of the amusement park Dreamworld where four people were killed on a water ride this week, reacts as she sits with company Director George Venardos after the co
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By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's Ardent Leisure Group, the owner of a theme park where four people were killed on a water ride, said on Thursday it would do everything to help the victims' families.
Officials at the company's annual general meeting said they would offer financial assistance and rejected media reports that park staff had closed the ride hours before the accident due to safety concerns, only to be pressured into reopening it.
"It's just a devastating tragedy and it's still having a lot of problems for all of us to deal with it," Chairman Neil Balnaves told the meeting in Sydney.
"We will do everything to support the families. It's a time for grieving and that includes every single one of us."
Two men and two women were killed on Tuesday after getting trapped under an upturned raft on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld, near the tourist-magnet Gold Coast district in northeastern Queensland.
Ardent chief executive Deborah Thomas said she would donate her cash bonus of $167,500 to the Australian Red Cross which would ensure the full amount would go directly to support victims' families.
"I have been deeply affected and saddened by the tragic deaths ...at Dreamworld on Tuesday, in particular the impact of this incident on their children and families," Thomas said in a statement.
Ardent had been under pressure to defend executive pay arrangements, since the meeting had been set to consider a share incentive plan for Thomas, who became CEO in April last year.
The meeting showed the company still in the early stages of managing the aftermath of Australia's deadliest theme park accident in four decades, instead of the update on U.S. expansion aims that had been scheduled.
Balnaves, who had previously said he would retire after the meeting, said he would help the company with three inquiries into the accident: by the state workplace safety authority, the coroner and the company itself.
Earlier, Ardent said the ride completed an annual safety inspection less than a month ago.
The company also faces a blow to earnings from the accident, Balnaves said. Theme parks generate a quarter of Ardent's earnings, its 2016 annual report shows. In August, the company said theme park earnings rose 8.5 percent, as a spike in Chinese visitors pushed up admissions by 13 percent.
In a statement, the company, which had planned a memorial function at the theme park on Friday before reopening on Saturday, said it was postponing both events because of a police investigation, and would give an update on reopening on Monday.
Ardent shares fell 22 percent after the accident, but recovered 8 percent on Thursday.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)
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