The Truth About The Deadly Luna Park Ghost Train Disaster

In June 1979, seven people, including several children, got in line for the Ghost Train ride at Sydney, Australia's Luna Park; they would not return (via Monument Australia). The ride would catch fire and claim their lives through either carbon monoxide poisoning or burns. The youngest victim of the fire was just 4 years old. In the wake of the tragedy, heartbroken locals looked for a cause of the fire, a mystery that has yet to be solved over four decades later.

Survivors indicated that they smelled smoke a few minutes before the fire spread but figured it was part of the horror-themed ride's special effects. Riders on the Ghost Train went through a pitch-black building which added suspense and surprise to the track's turns and effects — and which helped the fire go unnoticed until it was too late. Investigations into the tragedy have revealed a long list of instances of incompetence and corruption on the parts of the Luna Park management and the local police, and while evidence of arson has been thrown around for decades, no definite cause of the tragedy has been fully accepted.

Witnesses claim they were pressured by police

In the years since the fire, multiple witnesses and survivors have come forward to shed doubt on the tragedy being caused by a simple electrical malfunction. According to ABC Australia, both patrons and Luna Park reported seeing a suspicious group of youths and biker gang members around the park, along with smelling kerosene in the build-up to the tragedy. Some even reported the "bikies" speaking about arson. The police chief called off any search for suspects and doubled down that the fire was caused by an electrical failure. Witnesses say they were hounded by the New South Wales police after their statements, while others feared retribution from the biker gang.

Initial investigations also revealed that Luna Park had failed to install proper fire suppression systems or emergency lighting for the ride, which took place in the dark (via Monument Australia). This was despite a recommendation from the local fire department to do so a year and a half prior to the inferno, which echoed a consultant's cautions to install a sprinkler system in 1977. Years of incompetence and penny-pinching led to the fire, and the inadequate response of the police in its aftermath means the true cause of this tragedy might never be revealed, although plenty of theories still exist and evolve to this day.

Was a mob boss involved in the arson?

According to The Conversation, recent evidence from an ABC true crime special makes a strong case that the Ghost Train fire was no accident, although connections to an infamous Sydney mob boss and his supposed New South Wales political puppet are more tenuous. An independent review from respected Australian professors and investigative journalists concluded that the police investigation seemed pre-determined to find the fire was caused by an electrical fault, given that there was no forensic evidence taken from the crime scene, which was immediately compromised by the police.

The motive behind an arson would be for the financial benefit of whatever company would earn the contract to rebuild and redevelop the park. Harbourside Apartments, the company that eventually won, employed relatives of Abe Saffron, an infamous figure in Sydney's organized crime scene. The reviewers found sufficient evidence connecting Saffron to Harbourside but were less than impressed with the ties made to NSW politician Neville Wran. Allegations that Wran influenced the board to choose Harbourside or that he regularly socialized with Saffron were unable to be backed up. 

Saffron may have encouraged police to ignore the arson

According to ABC Australia, NSW police are offering an AUD $1 million reward for anyone that can provide new information or evidence to the case as the arson angle grows in plausibility. Most scathing have been the reports from former senior police officers who say that Saffron had directly ordered the fires, and was able to get away with the crime with assistance from police officers he had in his pocket, even when children were killed. Reports go on to allege that Detective Doug Knight, who led the investigation and was adamant that mechanical failure was behind the inferno, was actually a "fixer" for Saffron and manipulated evidence and witnesses to achieve the desired outcome.

So much potential evidence has been lost — or maybe never existed — in the four decades since the flames took seven lives in Sydney's Luna Park. The five "bikies" that supposedly started the fire have never been found, and any forensic evidence they left behind was neglected almost immediately by the police. While it looks increasingly likely that arson and greed were behind the fire, the scenario without the involvement of Saffron, Knight, or Wran is still one of corruption and negligence that claimed the lives of six innocent children and a father.