Rafting Death On The Shotover River, 2001

Although the death of Yoly Nim Yan Chi in a rafting accident on a reasonably clam stretch of the Shotover River in 2001 was judged to be an accident there do seem to have been some similarities with her death and that of of Emily Jordan – with regards to hazard identification and how difficult it is to free someone trapped in white water:

Australian Canoeing, Tuesday, 14 May 2002

“No blame has been attributed to the rafting companies or the raft guide for the death of a University of Otago medical student during a raft trip on the Shotover River last year. The Maritime Safety Authority recently released its report into the death of Yoly Nim Yan Chi (19) during a joint Queenstown Rafting/Challenge Rafting trip on August 28. It found there was no procedural fault by the companies or the guide (Full report available for download).

Queenstown, NZ — No blame has been attributed to the rafting companies or the raft guide for the death of a University of Otago medical student during a raft trip on the Shotover River last year.

The NZ Maritime Safety Authority recently released its report into the death of Yoly Nim Yan Chi (19) during a joint Queenstown Rafting/Challenge Rafting trip on August 28. It found there was no procedural fault by the companies or the guide.

Miss Chi and five friends were on a raft which attempted to enter the Toilet Rapid. The raft was not close enough to the right bank and hit a large boulder.

The raft bounced off the rock and then rose up against a wave rolling off the boulder. Miss Chi fell out of the raft as the other five passengers lost their balance, which led to the raft dipping into the water. Four rafters were “flushed” from the raft as water rushed into it and pressure wrapped the raft around the rock.

Miss Chi and another rafter were wedged between the raft and the rock. He was freed by the guide after about 30 seconds but Miss Chi was facing upstream, between the raft and boulder and arched backwards, with only her hands above the water’s surface and unable to be freed.

The trip leader ordered the raft to be cut to free Miss Chi and radioed for a helicopter and medical assistance.

Attempts were made to rig lines to pull the raft off Miss Chi, including one by a helicopter, but the water pressure made it impossible. It took rescuers more than two hours to free her body. The rock was destroyed by explosives two days later.

A similar “wrap” had occurred a few days earlier on the same rock. It had taken 40 minutes to free the raft. At the time, recommendations were made to the companies’ guides about entering the rapid correctly.

The authority found the “tragic accident” was caused by a combination of the failure to stick to the true right hand side of the river before entering the rapid; the initial contact with the boulder which caused Miss Chi to fall into the river; the tilting of the raft after the group members lost their balance, which allowed water to enter the raft’s interior and wrap against the rock.

The authority will arrange a workshop with rafting representatives to discuss issues arising from the accident, including the means used for hazard identification, how the wrapping of rafts can be minimised and whether procedures for freeing them can be determined. A date is yet to be set.

When contacted yesterday, Challenge Rafting managing director Mark Quickfall said the companies supported the move to hold the workshop.

The accident had been a tragedy for all involved, he said and added he hoped the report would provide some answers for Miss Chi’s family.

“This tragedy deeply affected all of our staff. We understand fully the loss felt by her family, which will no doubt be rekindled at this time. Our sympathy is with them,” he said.”

It does make one question:
1. whether the previous “wrap” a few days earlier should’ve made the company reconsider using that stretch of river under similar conditions, and
2. whether the people in the raft were experienced/capable enough to keep it away from the right hand side of the river.

Other accidents on the Shotover River have included 11 people who were injured when their Shotover jet collided with a rock wall.

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