“Allegations a company did not have an “industry standard” safe operational plan and was “irresponsible” for not carrying a rope were some of the issues discussed at length by Maritime New Zealand’s whitewater sports expert witness in the Queenstown District Court yesterday.
In the prosecution following the death of English tourist Emily Jordan during a river boarding trip on the Kawarau River on April 29 last year, Maritime New Zealand’s whitewater sports expert witness, Donald Calder, said while the company’s safe operational plan at the time noted risks in the river, there were no steps shown to “eliminate, isolate or minimise hazards”.
“I do not consider the Mad Dog safe operational plan meets industry standards.”
…On the day, Ms Jordan and her boyfriend, Jonathan Armour, went on the river-boarding trip, former Mad Dog operations manager Nicholas Kendrick had noted the Kawarau River was low and the rock in Frogz Eddy which Ms Jordan became trapped on was a hazard.
On Tuesday, Mr Kendrick said he had decided to continue with plans to include the section of river but with a directive to keep all clients to river right, in a wider channel past the rock.
Mr Calder told Judge Callaghan he would have either started below that rapid or brought everyone to a calm eddy on the left hand bank and individually escorted them past the rock.
He said clients in a line often swung wider at the “tail” of the group as their reactions were based on those of the person in front of them and a delay down the chain “compounds the error through the group”, Mr Calder said.
He believed that was how Mr Armour and Anne Nichols, of the United States, drifted too far left and had to be helped past the rock.
Also too far left, Ms Jordan was swept on to the rock, where she was trapped under water.
Mr Calder disagreed with Mr Kendrick’s evidence that a jet ski, at 350kg, would pose too much of a threat to people in the water and was not manoeuvrable enough in rescue situations.
Mr Calder said he had witnessed jet skis at the section of river and they had “good manoeuvrability and can be placed where needed”.
“I consider having a jet ski available throughout the trip . . . is one practicable step Mad Dog should have taken.”
He stated in his evidence that he considered Mad Dog “was irresponsible by not carrying the rope” – an item “most professionals would say is one of the few basic pieces of equipment . . . for all water activities”.
However, defence counsel Michael Parker questioned Mr Calder’s claim a 15m rope would have been long enough to rig a pulley system around rocks in the area.
Mr Calder said it would not have reached a second rock, but was long enough to have doubled a person’s pulling power on the day.
When asked by Mr Parker if he accepted the rescue was not “straightforward”, Mr Calder said had there been a rope, “it should have been a very straightforward rescue”.
There had been moves to better regulate the river boarding, sledging or surfing industry before Ms Jordan’s death – Mr Calder had kayaked on the Kawarau River shadowing both Mad Dog and Serious Fun River Surfing in January 2008 before Ms Jordan drowned.
Having observed both companies, one of the issues he later discussed with Maritime New Zealand was that the life jackets used were “not fit” for white water.”
UPDATE 22 August
Looks like a deal is about to be struck before the defence even presents its case: River-boarding parties hoping for ‘outcome’
“Yesterday, on the fifth day of the proceedings, the presentation of the prosecution’s evidence was halted as a series of meetings were held between Maritime New Zealand representatives, the prosecution and defence lawyers and McLeod.
About midday, Maritime New Zealand prosecuting counsel Brent Stanaway told Judge Brian Callaghan both parties had agreed to apply for an adjournment until noon on Monday.
Mr Stanaway said the matter was “likely to be resolved” at that point, with “an outcome” at the hearing.
Judge Callaghan agreed to the adjournment. “
Update: Mad Dog River Boarding later changed its name to The River Boarding Co.