Two Jetboat Trials, Two Different Verdicts

Surgeon Paul Woods

Our readers know that we often write about adventure tourism related deaths and serious injuries on this blog and a while ago we commented on the death of Paul Woods – A British general surgeon at Dunedin Hospital he 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.

We’ve also written about Yan Wang – A Chinese tourist who died when the jet boat she was a passenger in flipped at the confluence of the Shotover and Kawarau rivers and she was trapped beneath the boat. The company involved was ‘Kawarau Jet’.  Seven other people were injured.

Trials for both incidents have been held recently and details of both were suppressed until today to avoid the risk of prejudice.

A report has now been released on Voxy

Wellington, July 16 NZPA – A Dunedin jet boat driver has been fined and ordered to pay reparation to the family of a British tourist killed in a jet boat crash two years ago, while another has been cleared of the same charge following another fatal jetboat crash.

Because of the two faced the same charges but from different accidents, details of both trials were suppressed until today.

Jeffrey William Donaldson, 57, this week pleaded guilty in Invercargill District Court to a charge of operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk. The court sat in Dunedin. Donaldson was at the helm when the jet boat struck a shingle bar and flipped on the Matukituki River, east of Wanaka, killing British doctor Paul Woods and injuring two other passengers in 2008. He had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charge, but changed his plea at the conclusion of the Crown’s evidence.

Donaldson was today fined $2500 and ordered to pay $25,000 reparation to Dr Woods’ family.

Meanwhile, a former Queenstown commerical jetboat driver was found not guilty of a Maritime Transport Act charge following a similar fatal jetboat accident on the Kawarau River, also in 2008. Ian Morgan, 37, was charged with driving a ship in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk to others after Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, was killed when his jet boat flipped on a sandbar. However, the jury in Invercargill District Court found him not guilty on July 9.

Maritime New Zealand said it accepted the jury’s decision but there were still safety lessons to be learned.
Investigations manager Steve van der Splinter said after the Donaldson sentencing that the skipper had made critical errors of judgment. He had steered his boat full of passengers away from the safer deep waters of the main river channel, and instead took the boat down a narrower, shallower and less visible section of water. Rather than slowing and keeping the boat straight to let it come to a stop on the gravel, which was accepted good practice, he turned sideways at speed across an expanse of shingle and very shallow water. The manoeuvre caused the boat to “dig in” to the gravel and flip, killing Dr Woods instantly.

“By his own admission, had the skipper simply slowed down and held a straight course, the boat would have come to a stop and the accident could have been avoided,” Mr van der Splinter said. “This tragedy brings home just how quickly things can go tragically wrong, even by departing from accepted safe practice just for a moment. “It’s our hope that the lesson other boaties will take out of this tragedy is that if there is any doubt about the safety of a particular manoeuvre or course of action, they just shouldn’t do it.”

Mr van der Splinter expressed sympathy for the families of the victims and acknowledged the other victims of the crashes.”

The final report of the panel conducting a review of adventure tourism in New Zealand has been completed but has yet to be released to the public.

The review was instigated after the father of drowned British tourist, Emily Jordan, wrote to Prime Minister Key saying that safety regulation in New Zealand was “third world.” Meanwhile whilst the public patiently awaits the report a number of high profile trials have taken place and an inquest into Emily Jordan’s death won’t get underway until it is published.

In an interview with Scene, “The free voice of Queenstown”  Chris Jordan has said he will push for an inquest into his daughter’s death to be held in the UK if one isn’t held in NZ. He said that he was disappointed to still be waiting to hear if one will be held and that the situation was “bizarre”.

Mr. Jordan wrote in a letter to Mr Key that he had spent 16 months investigating the way that extreme sports firms are regulated in New Zealand and was “appalled” at what he had found, he called for safety regulation of the industry, saying:

It is vital that more young people do not die in this way. It is a tragic, unnecessary waste and they leave many grieving people behind for whom life is forever changed. This situation is damaging New Zealand’s reputation worldwide...”

“The laws in place at the moment aren’t the right vehicle to be regulating this sort of activity and they are not being regulated in any case,” he said. “People are going to New Zealand and expecting that it will be regulated like a western country but that really isn’t the case.

There needs to be high quality and up-front checks on firms like this, but instead authorities only react when there is an incident.”

The Press has managed to get hold of some of the submissions made to the panel that carried out the review and found submissions alleging that  regulation of the industry has allowed unsafe operators to behave carelessly and that operators are confused and unsure of which regulatory body to deal with.

This appeared in the The Press on 6 July 2010

Adventure firms ‘run by seat of pants’, say critics


Last updated 05:00 06/07/2010

Some adventure tourism operators are running dangerous activities “by the seat of their pants“, Queenstown submitters to an industry review say.

The submissions, released to The Press by the Labour Department, show many in the industry are unhappy with the complex regulatory system which some allege has allowed companies to operate carelessly. The names of the submitters were deleted by the department, which cited privacy and prejudice concerns.

One submission claimed a number of operators did not meet minimum standards and ran their businesses “by the seat of their pants“. “Near-miss stories are the ones that do not reach the paper and often the customers are not aware of how close they came to an accident either,” the submission said.

“I have witnessed skippers in one company being dismissed over alcohol, and in another business the skipper hands out drinks on the trip home and is knocking them back himself.”

A theme among submitters was frustration with the levels of regulation for different activities, and confusion over which organisation to deal with. One submitter said regulatory bodies seemed to adopt an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” approach, and pursued a witch-hunt after an accident.

The review was ordered by Prime Minister John Key after he received a letter from British father Chris Jordan, whose daughter Emily died after a Queenstown river-boarding accident in 2008.  Jordan said he was not surprised to hear claims about dangerous operators.

There were plenty of excellent operators, but stronger penalties were needed to stamp out companies that did not meet safety standards, he said. “I would expect the good companies to be giving the bad companies a very hard time, because they all know who they are,” he said.

Mad Dog River Boarding owner Brad McLeod said he was not prepared to make assumptions about other adventure tourism companies. Many people had judged his company after the death of Emily Jordan without any idea of how the company worked, he said.

New Zealand Whitewater Boarding Association spokesman John Imhoff said the submissions echoed a general feeling in the industry. There was a lot of overlapping from regulatory bodies. An umbrella organisation that could tell a company what they needed to do would clear up confusion, he said. The industry had room for improvement, but it would be a shame if it was ruined by over-regulation and exorbitant costs, Imhoff said.

A spokesman for Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said sub-standard operating conditions and confusion about regulation were the main issues identified in the review, which attracted 142 submissions. It is expected to go to the Cabinet in two weeks when the Prime Minister returns from Asia.

The Tourism Industry Association and Maritime New Zealand declined to comment.”

Adventure Tourism in New Zealand

See also:

Thread from a Kiwi visiting Scotland (Dec 2014):

“Very sad to find out today that NZ has a solid reputation in the UK for attacking and killing tourists. A few people I spoke to only really had that knowledge as a talking point (aside from our nice scenery) including one who saw it first hand when she was visiting 😦

NZ Facts and Stats, Adventure tourism and safety

UK families form group to push for tougher extreme sports standards in New Zealand – families call for licensing system in New Zealand.

2 thoughts on “Two Jetboat Trials, Two Different Verdicts

  1. Paul is our beautiful son .the pain of losing our child is as raw as it was on that dreadful day we got the sad without our words convey the pain.dont know how he who is responsible gets threw each new day. Miss our beautiful brown eyed boy.

    • Please accept our deepest condolences for the loss of Paul, your much loved son. Please pass on our regrets to Leanne, Neil and Alexander.

      The boat’s skipper, Jeffrey William Donaldson, was the president of the New Zealand jet boating association – something that wasn’t widely reported in New Zealand at the time of the trial.

      It seems that very little has been learned since 2008, the deaths and injuries continue in what appears to be a poorly regulated activity.

      Ngaruroro River Jet Boat Accident

      JBNZ Media Release Ngaruroro River Jet Boat Accident – 4th January 2014

      Released by Jet Boating New Zealand – National Executive

      A jet boater from the Taranaki region was killed today when the jet boat he was driving collided with a willow tree in the Ngaruroro river in the Hawkes Bay. He was part of a party of three boats taking part in a JBNZ sanctioned excursion on the river.

      The 51 year old man who cannot be named until next of kin have been notified was a member of Jet Boating New Zealand and had boated with other members on organised events for the past two years. He had previously boated the Ngaruroro river, as had the other jet boaters on the excursion and was described by a fellow veteran JBNZ member as an extremely competent jet boater.

      The accident happened while three jet boats were boating upstream. The ‘Tail End Charlie’ boat got into difficulty in shallow water and skidded across shingle colliding with a willow tree, pinning the driver in the boat.

      Jet Boat association procedure saw the two upstream boats return to the crash site to render assistance until emergency services arrived. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

      Another passenger Leanne Lilly, also from Taranaki was airlifted to Hastings hospital in a serious condition but is now listed as stable.

      National President Garth McMaster: “Jet boating, like many sports involving powered craft can at times be dangerous and accidents sometimes happen. The National Executive and all members of Jet Boating New Zealand are devastated by today’s tragedy and offer it’s condolences to the family at this time”.

      Further information will be made public as it becomes available.

      Released 4th January 2014

      Paul Mullan National Executive – Media & Communications

      One has to question the suitability of these boats in shallow waterways with shingle banks, and whether there is any place for hooning around at high speeds in barely navigable waterways in New Zealand.

      Surely, jet boats would be better suited to broader, deeper bodies of water such as lakes and the ocean?

      an example of a NZ jet boating ride

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