For more about the trial see: Emily Jordan
Mad Dog River Boarding were recently prosecuted in connection with the death of Emily Jordan who died whilst river boarding in New Zealand in April 2008 (see link above)
A few days into the trial a deal was struck and four of the six charges were dropped (including the sole charge against the company director Brad Mcleod) the company pleaded guilty to the remaining two. At the time of the trial the court was told that Mad Dog River Boarding was operating in a "regulatory vacuum".
It was initially thought that the investigation was to be carried out by the Dept of Labour because it did not fall under the remit of Maritime NZ, and that the coroner would be informed:
"Sergeant Steve Ereckson, of the Cromwell police, said the woman's body was taken to Dunedin, where a post-mortem will be carried out. Her death will be referred to the Coroner.
Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Clive Geddes said the area had had adventure tourism-related deaths in the past, and he did not think the impact on the resort town would be measured in visitor numbers. (Ed: a rather naive view)
"I think the impact is sympathy for the family involved," he said.
Maritime New Zealand spokesman Ross Henderson said the organisation had offered help to the company involved, but river boarding did not fall under its responsibilities.The accident would be referred to the Department of Labour, he said."
But it was eventually Maritime New Zealand who brought the prosecution under Health and Safety in Employment legislation. Could it be that white water river boarding had slipped through the regulatory net until the time of Miss Jordan's death? it was only after she'd passed away that any River Boarding guidance was issued and that was by Maritime NZ after it instigated a review of the industry in late 2008, this is from their website, dated Nov 19 2008:
“Commercial river boarding and river sledging operations have been around since 1989, but they are still relatively under-represented activities in New Zealand. There are only a few operators throughout the country and, although each operation has had its own internal training system and operating plans, up until now there have not been any formal guidelines.
“Tapping into the expertise held by the rafting industry – which is comparatively far more established – is a good way to build up rescue knowledge and skills within the river boarding community.”
Mr Sonneveld says the developments are part of an industry-wide safety review that has been undertaken following the investigation into the death of English tourist Emily Jordan while river boarding on the Kawarau River in Queenstown on 29 April 2008. "
If there were 'no formal guidelines' does this also mean that there was no formal health and safety regulation either? it is unclear as to whether Mad Dog ever received a safety audit from a regulatory authority.
What was Emily's parents reaction to the outcome of the trial? This from a BBC Report:
"Ms Jordan's father Chris, who travelled to New Zealand for the hearing, said his family found it "offensive" that the company would face only fines.
He said: "We have lost a bright, compassionate, intelligent daughter. She was not drinking or messing about.
"Instead she was paying good money do something that had been promoted as good fun."
He called for greater regulation of extreme sports in New Zealand and said he was in contact with families of others who had died taking part in such activities in the country.
Miss Jordan's family also criticised the country's laws which meant the company did not need insurance and no inquest would necessarily be held into his daughter's death.
Speaking from the family home her mother, Sarah Jordan, said she did not feel justice had been done.
"Obviously, we have lost a daughter and a sister.
"It seems incredible there are no corporate manslaughter charges in New Zealand."
She said the family would campaign in New Zealand for extreme sports to be better regulated (Ed: we wish them every success with this, it's going to be a tough job)
"We want to raise the profile of the fact that no-one realises how dangerous how it is," Mrs Jordan said."
Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry for New Zealand so the resources do exist to bring adventure tourism and extreme sports up to standard. For too long "lack of money" has been used as an excuse for cutting corners. Add to that a situation where zero liability exists under the auspices of a no-fault accident provision under the ACC (New Zealand's Accident and Compensation Commission) rather than commercial insurance companies who would effectively 'weed out' businesses who don't make the grade, and it's easy to see why standards might slip.
The ACC is a Crown organisation that provides comprehensive, no-fault personal injury cover for all New Zealand residents and visitors to New Zealand. It is funded by levies on earnings, businesses’ payrolls, the cost of petrol and vehicle licensing fees as well as Government funding. The minister in charge is Nick Smith (who's also Minister for the Environment and for Climate Change Issues) His administrative support for is provided by the Dept of Labour.
A manslaughter trial started on the day the Mad Dog River Boarding case pleaded-out. It is being held in relation to the death of 21 year old Catherine Peters, who died from a fall from the Ballance Bridge Swing in the Manawatu Gorge, near Woodville. The world is watching as the prosecution of yet another adventure tourism death in New Zealand progresses through the courts. It's time to tighten up safety standards and restore confidence in the industry before tourists simply decide to go to countries that are less likely to kill them.