Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Inconsitency In Evidence At Catherine Peters Manslaughter Trial

We’ve noticed a glaring inconsistency in the evidence being presented at the trial of Alistair McWhannell, Crag Adventures, for the manslaughter of Catherine Peters.

Back at the depositions hearing in August the Crown said that Mr McWhannell “had overseen 80 jumps from the bridge (and) failed to take proper care with Ms Peters’ second jump”

But in the evidence presented before the court yesterday the Prosecutor Evan McCaughan said Mr McWhannell had supervised close to 20,000 bridge-swings prior to Ms Peters’ fall.

Now, which is it?

How many jumps did McWhannell supervise in the period October-March and how does the prosecution explain the enormous difference in the figures?

Evidence presented before the court alleges that McWhannell was distracted by another woman whilst preparing Catherine for her second jump:
“The Crown says McWhannell was the only one in charge of the swing and he failed to do his job.
Mr McCaughan told the jury the rope was not secured to the bridge. “His job was simple, he had to do it for every jump,” he said.
Ms Peters was on her second jump that day but the Crown alleges McWhannell was distracted by a woman who was meant to jump after her. McWhannell had allegedly met that woman on the internet and intended to do a tandem jump with her.
It proved a fatal distraction.
He knew the rope was too long the moment she jumped,” Mr McCaughan told the jury.
For the first time today, Ms Peters’ family came to court. In a statement they describe how they miss her.
“We miss terribly her bouncing into a room, enthusiastic about her latest idiosyncratic discovery, her humour, her insightfulness and wisdom, her friendship and mentoring, her sense of fun.
“The man who loved Catherin support one another in this ongoing heartbreak.”
Ms Peters would have turned 20 last Saturday.”
We’re reminded of the comment that “complacency and an underestimation of risks” contributed to a canyoning tragedy that killed 6 students and their teacher in another outdoor adventure tragedy in NZ.

We are left wondering wondering why such critical elements such as the length of a rope and making sure to tie it off can ever be allowed, surely ‘human error’ is foreseeable?.
Where are the fail safes in this ‘safe’ system of work and why did safety inspectors allow this practice to continue? (i

Update 16 June 2010 - Climbing Wall Guidance Issued May 2010
Amazingly no official safety guidance for something as established as Climbing Walls existed in New Zealand at the time of a serious 'accident' at Ferg’s Rock and Kayak, Wellington in 2008.

Following the incident the Dept of Labour issued a “hazard bulletin”, including a safety checklist, to 35 operators of climbing walls nationwide to help them ensure they take all practicable steps, as required by law, to protect their customers. (Official safety guidance for climbing wall operators has been around since 2001 in the UK)
"The Department had been concerned at the growing number of wall climbing accidents and believes the industry’s development of guidelines is important to improve safety standards. The Department will work with the industry as required to facilitate this.
The need for such guidelines was endorsed by the Greymouth coroner last month in his findings on the death of a woman after a climbing wall accident in Greymouth in April 2009.
The Department’s key messages to climbing wall managers are to ensure beginners are properly instructed in belay procedures and demonstrate competence before climbing, and to ensure constant supervision of the climbing wall.  They also need to review safety procedures to ensure they meet minimum standards and ensure their lead instructors hold suitable New Zealand Outdoor Instructors Association qualification." source
 Isn't about time that similar guidance and support was issued to operators of bridge swings?

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Catherine Peters Manslaughter Trial Underway

The trial of the man accused of the manslaughter of student Catherine Peters started today.

Catherine Peters, was an 18 year old student in her first year of a veterinary degree at Massey University. She died in March last year from injuries sustained when she fell 20 metres from the Ballance Bridge in the Manawatu Gorge, near Woodville. She was participating in a commercially-run bridge swing exercise with Massey University’s alpine club, organised by Crag Adventures.

She left behind a grieving family – her father Bosco, author of, mother Helen and brother Jonathan. Our thoughts are with them and with her friends and wider family at this very difficult time.

Interestingly, a government review of the adventure tourism industry, instigated after the drowning of Emily Jordan, has been completed but has yet to be released. We suspect this is because the government is waiting for this trial to be concluded. Also placed on the back-burner is the inquest into Emily’s death, with talk of it being held in the UK if no progress is made in New Zealand.
Emily’s father, Chris Jordan wrote to John Key, Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism, calling for a review of the industry and saying  NZ safety regulation was “third world” after his daughter died in a river boarding activity. He also called the fine given to the Mad Dog Riverboarding company “an insult

The Dom Post has reported on the Catherine Peters trial today saying:
“The man accused of the manslaughter of Catherine Peters, who died in a bridge swinging accident, failed to ensure her safety, a jury has been told.
Adventure company owner Alistair McWhannell, is accused of failing to ensure Ms Peters, 18, was safe when she jumped from Ballance Bridge, near Woodville, on March 7 and fell 22 metres on to rocks.
His trial began this morning in the Palmerston North High Court.
Prosecutor Evan McCaughan said Mr McWhannell failed to ensure Ms Peters’ safety by not using the correct length of rope, and failing to correctly tie off her rope to the bridge.
Ms Peters’ family – who are in court – have released a statement saying they missed her terribly.
”We are grateful for every amazing moment we had together with Catherine. Catherine was wise and insightful beyond her years,” her parents Bosco and Helen Peters, and brother Jonathan said.”
Further details about the trial procedings were published in a release on Voxy:
Earlier in the day, McWhannell had told several people after Ms Peters’ fall he had “f**ked up”, and had had a lapse in concentration, Mr McCaughan said. “He said something along the lines of: ‘It’s like when you’re in your car and coming out of your driveway and you look left and right. Well this time I only looked left’,” Mr McCaughan told the court.
However, in a subsequent police interview, McWhannell’s story was different, Mr McCaughan said. “He then claimed that as far as he knew he had pulled the ropes up and tied them off.”
Mr McCaughan said McWhannell had supervised close to 20,000 bridge-swings prior to Ms Peters’ fall.
His job involved two key aspects — ensuring the rope was pulled up to the correct length after each jump and tying the rope on the bridge each time, Mr McCaughan said.
His job was simple. He only had to ensure two things — one at each end of the rope,” he said.
“His job was simple but he absolutely had to do it for every jumper. If the accused didn’t do his job the jumper would almost certainly die.”
Bungy Jump Fall
There have been no further reports about the condition of an Australian tourist, 39 year old Kirsty Moulder from the Blue Mountains, who slipped out of a bungy harness and was seriously injured whilst making a jump with Thrillseekers at Hanmer Springs last month.

Thrillseekers had only been running the operation since October 2009. See “Australian Tourist Injured In Bungy Accident, Another Has Collapsed Lung”

The press reported that the proprietors of the bungy jump had entered into “full support and compensation payment” discussions with Ms Moulder and her husband. As far as we are aware there has been no decision to prosecute at present.

Last year there were multiple trials relating to adventure tourism deaths in new zealand including:
  • Tor Presto – 24, from Norway, drowned in October 2007 when he was swept under water after a collision between two rafts on a grade five rapid on the river.
  • Paul Woods – A British general surgeon at Dunedin Hospital died when the jet boat he was a passenger in flipped after hitting a gravel bank in the Matukituki River. His partner Dr Leanne Tonney and her brother Dave were injured in the crash. The boat was privately owned.
  • Yan Wang - A Chinese tourist died when the jet boat she was a passenger in flipped at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau rivers. The company involved was ‘Kawarau Jet’. 7 other people were injured.
  • Sarah Katie Bond – A British tourist who died from her injuries during a quad bike trek run by ‘Waitomo Big Red’ 30km west of Waitomo Caves last August.
  • Emily Jordan - A British tourist who drowned whilst riverboarding with ‘Mad Dog River Boarding’ on the Kawarau river. The company was fined NZ$66,000. (US$46,000)
  • Six students and a teacher – Died in a canyoning exercise with the Sir Edmund Hilary Outdoor Centre, the centre was fined NZ$44,000.
  • Rosemary Berry, a semi retired Australian tourist broke an arm and shoulder whilst skiing and sustained other injuries after she fell over an metal track left in the snow at the Cardrona Ski Resort. The company subsequently tried to appeal against its conviction of fines and costs totalling almost $60,000.
High Numbers of Tourist Deaths in New Zealand
In the five years to September 2006 some 779 overseas residents died in New Zealand. In comparison, 95 tourist deaths occurred in Australia for the two year period between 2003 and 2005. A direct comparison with NZ and Australian figures are not available due to the lack of NZ government agencies collecting these statistics.” (source)
Of those people, 29 people died and at least 540 have been seriously injured in NZ adventure tourism activities over the 5 year period.(source)

See also:
NZ guiding industry failing to manage risks properly
Another Adventure tourism death results in prosecution – Tor Prestmo

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